A congregation defies law to practice their faith
POSTED: Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 6:00am
UPDATED: Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 6:04am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — A church in east Tennessee is defying man's law to honor what they say is God's law.
Snake handling is an ancient form of worship with a modern day twist. The pastor of the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette is 20 year old Andrew Hamblin.
"The lord said thou shalt take up serpents. If there was a law that came against this world that said, "You cannot praise God or read your Bible', there would still be somebody that would read their Bible," said Pastor Hamblin.
The church has about thirty full time members.
"We're not up here throwing snakes across the church house and things like that," explained Pastor Hamblin. "I know the world thinks we're crazy. That's not what I want to share with the world, we're Christian people, we are part of the Pentecostal movement."
Hamblin grew up in a Pentecostal church that spoke in tongues but did not handle snakes. He saw a documentary on snake handling and became interested when he was 17 years old. He is now a full believer.
"You can take up serpents. A four, five foot deadly rattlesnake, lay it in the palm of hand under the anointment of God and there'll be no harm come to you," said Hamblin.
Pastor Hamblin said you do not pick up a snake unless the spirit moves you.
"You don't set at home and say, "When I go to church, I'm gonna sing one song, I'm gonna pray for brother so and so. When I get finished praying for brother so and so, I'm gonna handle two rattlesnakes and a copperhead. I'm gonna put them up then I'm gonna shout a while and go home.' You don't do that. We're led by the spirit of God," explained Hamblin.
Hamblin, who has a wife and four children, has been bitten four times.
"I've got a crippled finger to prove they're not defanged," he said.
Hamblin did almost die from one of those snakebites.
Over Memorial Day weekend, one of his mentors, Reverend Randy Wolford, was bitten by a rattlesnake and died the next day. His father, who was also a preacher, died from a rattlesnake bite in the 1980s.
"The way he died, that was preappointed before the foundation of the world," said Hamblin. "What it means to me that, that just shows the ones that does believe in it this is not a game. This is not something you play with," he explained.
Hamblin and his fellow worshippers are part of a new generation of serpent handling Christians. They use Facebook to promote their kind of worship. Their worship is illegal because in Tennessee it is illegal to own venomous snakes. That law is something Hamblin is aware of.
"I don't never try to cause no trouble and the law around here, they wouldn't unless someone got bit and went to the hospital," said Pastor Hamblin.
At Hamblin's church, anyone under 18 years old is not allowed to handle the snakes, but other members do handle the snakes, even putting them close to their face.
Hamblin says everyone is welcomed in his church.
"I'll welcome anybody and we'll treat you good. We want to love everybody because that's what God is. God is love," he said.
Most snake handling churches do not let the media inside. Pastor Hamblin said his congregation has nothing to hide.