Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Snake 1, Snake Handler no Score

Jamie Coots

I did not know that there was a reality show on TV called Snake Salvation. I'm thinking it may be cancelled. The pastor of the Kentucky congregation where live snake-handling takes place is Jamie Coots. Was. Jamie was bitten by a venomous rattlesnake at his church and sensible souls called for an ambulance. The pastor refused the anti-venom as a matter of faith and then, well, he died. Why of why would he have this sort of death wish? Because the bible told him too of course. In Mark 16 it says "17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

If you haven't heard this brief reference before, little wonder. It just doesn't come up as a text in mainline churches, and I wouldn't preach on it anyway, except as a cautionary tale. This snake-handling craziness has been around as long as I can remember. It's tempting to just shake our heads and mutter something about Coots' foolishness. But the man is dead and he probably had a family which is now bereft. What a reminder about biblical literalism and the ways in which the "faithful" can get side-tracked from the core of the gospel. This is a freak show, not worship which leads us toward a meaningful relationship with Christ, in service of others.

Through the years I've had my fair share of conversations with those who insist they are biblical literalists but when I challenge them they admit have no intention of poking out their eyes or cutting off their hands because they lust or covet, nor should they.

The scriptures are essential to who I am as a Christian and I can't imagine worship or my own devotional life without them. Whenever possible I share scripture with those I visit because it is a source of solace and strength. But I gave up on the notion of literal reading of the bible a long time ago. After all, the supposedly literal reading always requires someone's brain, addled or otherwise to interpret it.

Had you heard about this situation? Are you a recovering biblical literalist? Do we take the bible seriously enough in our liberal United Church?

1 comment:

Laura said...

Glad you aren't a literalist and a snake handler, David....a young lady in his congregation also died a few years back from a snake bite...

Had one of those really "connected" Sunday School discussions last week with a small group of Grade 4-7 girls. The scripture was Choose Life, and I had thought it would take alot of talking to get to what "choosing life' might mean to pre-teens and I was never so wrong...they knew why their living was rich because they did their best to follow Jesus.

Then they decided we had better talk about Jesus walking on water and Creation and Adam and Eve, and, and, and....they are just at the cusp of leaving the comfort and certainties of childhood behind including their literal acceptance of Scripture, and I felt priviledged, and excited to see the confidence they had found so far in Scripture inspiring them to deeper discovery. Smetimes I have kind of held my breath as we covered Creation and the like with our littlest kids, in its purest biblical telling but I am growing to realize that more literal foundation needs to be laid giving them the confidence to simply experience the richness of Christian life and if we are able to do that well, the questions begin, as they did last Sunday, but the questions are rooted in a desire to find the deeper truth
of Scripture and living, and not as a means to completely disprove anything.