Snake handling pastor, whose father died from snakebite, dies from a snakebite.

I often post entries in a category I call “too much faith will make you crazy”, but this is more a case of making you stupid rather than crazy. Lots of Pentecostals take the Bible verse in Mark 16:17-18 way too seriously.

Pastor Mark Wolford was one of those Pentecostals and he put his faith to the test repeatedly by handling venomous snakes during his services. This past Sunday it ended up being his last test:

Serpent-handling pastor profiled earlier in Washington Post dies from rattlesnake bite – The Washington Post

About 30 minutes into the service, his sister said, Wolford passed a yellow timber rattlesnake to a church member and his mother.

“He laid it on the ground,” she said, “and he sat down next to the snake, and it bit him on the thigh.”

[…] The festivities came to a halt shortly thereafter, and Wolford was taken back to a relative’s house in Bluefield to recover, as he always had when suffering from previous snake bites. By late afternoon, it was clear that this time was different, and desperate messages began flying about on Facebook, asking for prayer.

Rattlesnake venom attacks the nervous system which makes it a particularly painful way to die, but it’s generally survivable if you get treatment in a timely fashion. Wolford was bit around 1:30 in the afternoon, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital around 11 that night. That’s a helluva thing to go through to prove your faith to God.

It also seems to put the lie to the claims in Mark 16 and you’d think that after enough people die in this way folks would start to rethink the wisdom of temping fate in such a fashion. Indeed, snake handling is dwindling among Pentecostals, but folks like Wolford are (or were) trying to reverse that trend.

Some folks might think there’s something honorable in Wolford dying for his beliefs, but I just see it as pointless waste. He didn’t prove anything nor did his death aid anyone in any way. At best it’s one less idiot dancing around dangerous reptiles in the world while encouraging others to do the same.

8 thoughts on “Snake handling pastor, whose father died from snakebite, dies from a snakebite.

  1. I was particularly amused by this:

    Wolford was 15 when he saw his father die at age 39 of a rattlesnake bite in almost exactly the same circumstances.

  2. Well, Mark clearly states that if you are a true believer that you should be capable of handling poisonous snakes (actually that portion of the Gospel was added later, one of many examples of editing and interpolation in “God’s word.” Why exactly does God need editors?) If Christians are unable to handle poisonous snakes, Biblically speaking it does mean that they are frauds. Benedict XVI, Pat Robertson, Bill O’Reilly, the Graham family, why aren’t they handling snakes in public? Are they secret atheists?

  3. Oh, I think the pastor may have done something useful with his death. I hope there’s at least one person in his congregation who witnessed this and will come to the conclusion that hey, maybe this is bullshit after all. If the pastor’s incredibly stupid death can bring one person to enlightenment, then he won’t have died in vain.

  4. I read an article about this case in the Washington Post today. The fellow had been bitten a number of times previously and had recovered. Hence, he expected it to be the same this time around, but hours after he was bitten it was apparent that this time was different. Prayers were solicited on Facebook, but he progressively got worse. By the time paramedics took him to a regional medical center it was too late. Presumably, the fellow suffered excruciating pain. Wonder if he thought he was landing in hell. Of course, if he had gone to the medical center immediately, he would still be around. Hence, it was faith that killed him. Nevertheless, a freelance photographer who had been covering snake handlers said “He helped me to understand the faith instead of just documenting it.”

  5. Sometimes the sheer stupidity of people amazes, dismays, and amuses me. Most kids around here are taught ‘don’t pet the pretty snake, leave it be’ as soon as they can toddle. There are people who can handle poisonous snakes, and they’re not ecstatic Pentecostals AFAIK. They’re trained wildlife experts and/or herpetologists who know to use a long pole and a bucket. No religion or altered states of consciousness necessary. For the record, I’m in Arizona, so we’ve got poisonous snakes by the barrelful.

    Rattlesnake venom is primarily hemotoxic, not neurotoxic, though there are neurotoxic components present as well as cytotoxins. This results in hemorrhaging and internal bleeding along with severe pain and sometimes respiratory arrest, as well as garden-variety shock. It’s not a pleasant way to die.

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