jamie-cootsJamie Coots, a snake-handling Kentucky pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show “Snake Salvation,” died after being bitten by a snake. Pastors such as Coots cite a Bible passage from the Bible’s book of Mark, Chapter 16, that reads, in part: “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.”

Meanwhile, Jamie Coots is being hailed as a “martyr.” Professor Ralph Hood stated, “They will continue, and praise Jamie Coots as a martyr who died for his faith.” Seriously, martyr?

The simple definition of martyr is someone who is killed because of his or her religious or other beliefs. In both Islam and Christianity, the words used for martyr originally meant ‘witness‘ or ‘testify to’ as in a court of law, and the words quickly became extended to those who by their deaths testified to, or witnessed to, their belief in their respective faiths.

Many in our world believe there are ideas worth dying for. Many in our ‘parents’ and ‘grandparents’ generations thought ideas were worth dying for when they fought in WWII.  Christianity and Islam, the two largest world religions, teach explicitly that they are worth dying for, and they both have martyrdom as core values which shape their practice and sense of identity.

So let’s lay it out there; right now, right here. Dr. Martin Luther King was a martyr. Gandhi was a martyr. Christ was a martyr. President Lincoln was a martyr. Coots? … Well, Coots was bit.

Looking at Coots’ life via the National Geographic reality television, I’m amazed at what he did not do.  His pastoral life focused entirely upon getting live venomous snakes.  There was little focus upon how to employ the parish’s unemployed, generate food drives, increase childhood education, develop healthcare and raising the standard of living for his congregation.

All Coots contaminated pastoral leadership. He was fined in 2008 for keeping 74 snakes, sentenced to a year of probation for illegal wildlife possession after crossing into Tennessee with five venomous snakes. He had no life insurance, leaving his wife a widow and children fatherless.

His ministry was choked by ignorance. And a week later, the train wreck continues:

  • Coots will be remembered with a special tribute to air on National Geographic Channel.
  • Cody Coots, son of the late Jamie Coots, said he would handle deadly snakes during upcoming services.  What’s more, he says there will be no anti-venom meds on hand in case the snake attacks again. “I will lay right there and say to everyone, it’s God’s will.  It’s good enough to live by, and good enough to die by.”

I’m positive God cringes when we repeat stupidity.

Be careful when choosing faith over evidence. Some will claim Coots was faithful. In truth, ignorance is what killed Jamie Coots. That same ignorance condoned slavery, suppressed women’s rights, attempts to oppress gay and lesbian communities (such as in Arizona, Kansas and other states). For Jamie Coots, faith meant death.