The Sad Truth About The Man Who Advocated For Snake-Handling Rights

Pastor Jamie Coots died for his controversial beliefs. The Pentecostal preacher who practiced venomous snake handling as part of his church services ultimately succumbed to a snake bite in 2014 after refusing to give up the practice, even after he was arrested and convicted in 2008 in Kentucky for owning dozens of venomous snakes without a permit.

In 2013, Coots was also convicted of illegally possessing and transporting three rattlesnakes and two copperhead snakes in Tennessee to be used for worship services at his church in Kentucky. But Coots persisted. 

According to a press release from National Geographic where Coots starred in the reality series, "Snake Salvation," Coots was a pastor for twenty years at a church founded by his grandfather in Middlesboro, KY called, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name. Raised on Pentecostal beliefs, Coots once said, "To me it's as much a commandment from God when he said 'they shall take up serpents,' as it was when he said 'thou shall not commit adultery," the press release said. 

Still, Coots told Wisconsin Public Radio in an interview two weeks before his death that he did not want to die of a snake bite "because it brings persecution upon the church." But he said he'd prefer that manner of death to some kind of accident because at least then he'd be in a situation in which "everybody around me praying as (opposed) to in a car crash, and everybody standing around me cussing."

Coots was killed by his favorite kind of snake

NPR reported that over the course of 22 years, Coots had been bitten by poisonous snakes nine times before the tenth fatal bite. After being bitten on his right hand, Coots fell unconscious. His family took him home and refused emergency workers' anti-venom treatment. 

It's not that Pentecostals don't believe in medicine, they do, but they also have a strong belief in divine healing — the idea that God will save you if he so chooses, or if it's your time to die, then so be it. In Coots' case, it took two hours after that last venomous snake bite for him succumb to the poison. He was 42. 

Coots said he really enjoyed snake handling though, and he was not afraid. He once told NPR, "I enjoyed the feeling that moved on me to take up the serpent, handling the snake, it's indescribable. You have a peace to know that you're holding something in your hand that could kill you. And yet, you have no fear of it."

Coots said he most enjoyed handling "really, really big snakes," and that his favorite was the black timber rattler. According to NPR, that was the kind of snake that killed him. 

In 2018 Jamie Coots' son, Cody Coots, who took over the congregation after his dad died was also bitten by a poisonous snake as he led a sermon. According to a Truly Video posted on YouTube, Cody survived after 10 days in the intensive care unit thanks to medical intervention.