A reality TV show about snake handlers to debut in September

Andrew Hamblin preaches while holding a snake above his head in LaFollette, Tenn. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channels

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) A pair of snake-handling Pentecostal preachers are getting their own reality television show.

Andrew Hamblin preaches while holding a snake above his head in LaFollette, Tenn. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channels

Andrew Hamblin preaches while holding a snake above his head in LaFollette, Tenn. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channels

“Snake Salvation” is set to debut Sept. 10 on the National Geographic Channel.

The series will feature Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Jamie Coots of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky.

They are among a handful of believers in Appalachia who practice the so-called signs of the gospel, found in Mark 16: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Coots said the series will feature scenes from church services where worshipers handle snakes, as well as the day-to-day struggle to live out their faith. “The main thing is for people to see that there is more to us than wanting to handle snakes,” said Coots.

Coots said he welcomes the attention that the show will bring. It also gives him a chance to share his faith with a wider audience than his small congregation.

“We say we are in this to save souls,” he said. “But people don’t see us if they don’t come into the four walls of the church.”

A crew from National Geographic Television followed the two preachers in the fall of 2012 and the spring and summer of 2013. Sixteen episodes are planned so far, said executive producer Matthew Testa.

Testa said that because their faith is dangerous and illegal to practice in most states, serpent-handing congregations have been wary of the media in the past. By getting to know Coots and Hamblin, he said, viewers will get a view into a unique religious culture.

“We live at a time when, because of the Internet and television, we are all becoming more and more alike,” he said. “To find a really distinct American subculture is incredibly rare.”

Testa said the serpent-handling believers blend into the rest of society. They dress modestly — dresses for women, pants and long sleeves for men — but also shop at Wal-Mart. And both churches in the show are located in residential neighborhoods.

“This is the church next door,” said Testa. “You could be driving right by them and have no idea that people inside are handling snakes.”

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, KY. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, KY. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel

The series will also feature the mix of rockabilly and gospel music typically found in serpent-handling congregations, which are part of the Pentecostal holiness tradition. Some of the songs that appear in the series were written by Coots’ grandfather.

Titles of 10 episodes of the reality series are listed at the National Geographic Channel’s website, including “Casting out Demons,” “Bitten in Church” and “Venom in the Vein.”

One episode will cover Coots’ court battle earlier this year. Officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confiscated five rattlesnakes from Coots during a January traffic stop on Interstate 40 in East Tennessee, as state law bans private citizens from owning venomous snakes.

In February, he was sentenced to a year of probation.

There’s also plenty of drama — as the pastors and their followers deal with marriage problems, past struggles with drugs, and day-to-day efforts to put food on the table.

In at least one episode, a church member is bitten by a snake, causing worshippers to pray for a healing rather than seeking medical care.

Coots said there’s plenty in the show to get people’s attention. He’s glad it will finally be on the air soon and will show the power that faith can have in people’s lives.

“If one person sees it and it converts them or causes them to go to a church, then it will be worth it,” he said.

(Bob Smietana writes for USA Today and The Tennessean. )


About the author

Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana is a veteran religion writer and editor-in-chief of Religion News Service.


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  • Very sad. I was raised up in a religion where people have done this but not like this. They r tempting God on this show. My grandad desired that God would allow him to pick up a snake. He prayed about it, a lot! The one time that God allowed it, the snake fell limp, like it was dead. It wasn’t! When God is in it, u will NOT get bitten! In the cases that I have heard of people handling a snake, the snake falls limp.

  • Drinking poison is also tempting God. What that part in the bible is talking about is lets say u drink poison by accident, or someone tries to poison u. If u are a true child of God, it will not harm u. Yes, I have heard of this in my religion as well. Example, a couple from our church had their well tested when they were gonna put their house up for sale. I was extremely off the charts for ecoli, I believe thats what it was. They never got sick.

  • Loving this snake handling preacher on Snake Salvation who lives in LaFollette, TN (where my children were born by the way). The narrator of the show says, while this preacher boy is buying a banjo at the local pawn shop, “Unemployed and on welfare, Andrew has scraped together the last of his money for the purchase.” A few seconds later it shows this unemployed and on welfare snake handling preacher driving in the car as the narrator explains that preacher man has surprised his family by taking a trip to Dollywood for a Ricky Scaggs concert.

    Oh, and to add to the story, preacher man used to play bluegrass on his banjo at Dollywood when he was a boy. So, you may say, “Perhaps he is purchasing the banjo so he can play and earn a living.” Nope, playing anything but gospel music is against their beliefs. Now, to each his/her own for religion/spirituality but truly, what witness is this to the non-religious/non-spiritual?

  • Get off welfare you lazy people. Pick up a broom or a shovel with the same fervor that you pick up snakes. In the Coot’s church it seems that so many things will send you to hell; therefore, disobedience to the scripture requiring a man to labor should qualify as well. That attitude disgust me.