Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Snake 1, Snake Handler no Score
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?