Knoxville pastor Andrew Hamblin, who handles poisonous snakes as part of his faith, got in trouble with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency the other day. TWRA agents raided his Tabernacle Church of God, and took the dozens of illegal snakes they found, including rattlesnakes and copperheads, to the Knoxville Zoo. The TWRA says some of them were in bad condition when they were confiscated, a charge that Hamblin denies.
The pastor, reports the local Gannett news station, was cited with possession of Class 1 wildlife (wildlife inherently dangerous to humans).
Hamblin is crestfallen over the loss of his beloved animals.
Oh wait, my bad — he isn’t at all, actually.
“It doesn’t bother me that they took the snakes, because I can always get more snakes. There can always be more snakes that can be found. And that don’t deter me,” said Hamblin. “What bothers me is that this is not a place of business. This is not a home. Had this been a home or a business, yes, raid it. But this is a church. This is a place of worship.”
Some of his flock are upset too.
“I hope that the state of Tennessee recognizes that this is our right to handle the snakes, it’s our belief, and that they legalize it,” said Machelle Tinch, a church member. Tinch described the feeling of serpent handling as a ‘tingling high’ better than any drugs or alcohol could create, and said her life has changed since she started attending the church. “In the Bible it says they shall take up serpents. And I think that if you’ve got the power of God, the anointing of God, that you can pick up a snake, you can drink poison, you can handle fire, you can do anything if you have God,” said Tinch.
In the forties, after five people died of snake bites in two years, the state of Tennessee adopted a law against serpent handling.
Hamblin, who obviously broke that law, will have to appear in court in one week. But if the judge tells him he can’t lawfully own and handle venomous snakes, he plans to shrug off the ruling and do it anyway. Samuel Jackson fans take note:
He said while he obeys other laws, this law violates the law of God. Hamblin claimed despite the citation and upcoming court date, church services would still continue with serpent handling in the future. … “If I don’t get the snakes that they came and took from me, one way or another there will be serpents here for the services, if we have to fly them in by an airplane.”
No word on whether any of the snakes Hamblin intends to procure will be able to talk.