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Snake handling at the Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky ...

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Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia. The practice plays only a small part of the church service of churches that practice snake handling. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke to support the practice: 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. (Mark 16:17-18) Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19) George Went Hensley (1880–1955) introduced snake handling practices into the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), circa 1910. He later resigned his ministry and started the first holiness movement church to require snake handling as evidence of salvation. Sister-churches later sprang up throughout the Appalachian region. Another key scripture used to support their belief is Acts 28:1-6, which tells that Paul was bitten by a venomous viper and suffered no harm. As in the early days, worshipers are still encouraged to lay hands on the sick (cf. Faith healing), speak in tongues (cf. Glossolalia), provide testimony of miracles, and occasionally consume poisons such as strychnine. Gathering mainly in homes and converted buildings, they generally adhere to strict dress codes such as uncut hair, ankle-length dresses and no cosmetics for women, and short hair and long-sleeved shirts for men. Most snake handlers preach against any use of tobacco or alcohol. Most religious snake handlers are still found in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of the southeastern United States, especially in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio. However, they are gaining greater recognition from news broadcasts, movies and books about the non-denominational movement. In 2001 there were about 40 small churches that practiced snake handling, most of them considered to be holiness-Pentecostals or charismatics. In 2004 there were four snake handling congregations in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.][ Like their predecessors, they believe in a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible. Most Church of God with Signs Following churches are non-denominational, believing that denominations are 'man made' and carry the Mark of the Beast. Worshippers attend services several nights a week. Church services, if the Holy Spirit "intervenes", can last up to five hours; the minimum is usually ninety minutes. Some of the leaders in these churches have been bitten numerous times, as indicated by their distorted extremities. Hensley himself, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains, died from fatal snakebite in 1955. In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne "Punkin" Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattler at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama. Members of his family contend that his death was probably due to a heart attack. However, his wife had died three years previously after being bitten while in Kentucky. Another snake handler died in 2006 at a church in Kentucky. In 2012, Pentecostal pastor and snake handler Mack Wolford died from a rattlesnake bite he had received while performing an outdoor service in West Virginia, as did his father in 1983. In 1991, Glenn Summerford, pastor of The Church of Jesus Christ With Signs Following (in Scottsboro, Alabama), was arrested for the attempted murder of his wife, Darlene. Summerford, in a drunken rage, had put a gun to his wife's head, forced her to write out a purported suicide note and then forced her hand into a cage of rattlesnakes used in church services, until she was repeatedly bitten (his church condemned divorce, so he found it convenient to become a widower). She narrowly survived only because he soon fell into a drunken stupor and she was able to make her escape. He was convicted and sentenced to 99 years of prison. The states of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee have passed laws against the use of venomous snakes and/or other reptiles in a place that endangers the lives of others, or without a permit. The Kentucky law specifically mentions religious services; in Kentucky snake handling is a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 to $250 fine. Most snake handling practices, therefore, take place in the homes of worshippers, which avoids the process of attempting to obtain a government permit for the church. Law enforcement officers usually ignore these religious practices unless and until they are specifically called in. This is not usually done unless a death has resulted from the practice. In July 2008, 10 people were arrested and 125 venomous snakes were confiscated as part of an undercover sting operation titled "Twice Shy." Pastor Gregory James Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name was arrested and 74 snakes were seized from his home as part of the sting. A Tennessee woman died in 1995 due to a rattlesnake bite received during a service at the Tabernacle church. Coots was cited again in 2013 for illegal possession and transportation of venomous snakes when three rattlesnakes and two copperheads were confiscated from his vehicle during a traffic stop in Knoxville, Tennessee. The practice is legal in the state of West Virginia as the current state constitution does not allow any law to impede or promote a religious practice. Snake handling was made a felony punishable by death under Georgia law in 1941, following the death of a seven-year-old girl from a rattlesnake bite. However, the punishment was so severe that juries would refuse to convict, and the law was repealed in 1968. Alabama Kentucky South Carolina Tennessee West Virginia Robert Schenkkan's play The Handler deals with the apparent death of a first-time snake handler and the involvement of law enforcement; in this case, the sheriff also being a snake handler. Ray Stevens's "Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat" comedically portrays a couple going to a Bible camp where snakes are passed around. It ends with the singer's wife stomping the rattlesnakes to death. It appears on his Surely You Joust album. The second season of Saturday Night Live included a sit-com parody called The Snake-Handling O'Sheas. The X Files episode "Signs and Wonders" deals heavily with snake handling. In the fourth season episode of the television series The Simpsons, titled Homer the Heretic, the local bartender Moe Szyslak, when asked to join a different religion, declares, "I was born a Snake Handler, and I'll die a Snake Handler." He then displays his badly snakebitten and bandaged hands. In the 1991 movie Cape Fear, the character Max Cady (played by Robert De Niro) comes from a family of snake handlers. In several scenes of the 1994 music video for her song God, Tori Amos participates in snake handling during a church service. Gina B. Nahai's third novel, Sunday's Silence, tells the story of Adam Watkins, the illegitimate son of little Sam Jenkins, founder of the snake-handling Holiness sect in Appalachia. In the 2012 movie The Campaign, Congressman Cam Brady (Played by Will Ferrell) attempts to boost his campaign popularity by joining a church of Snake Handlers in their sermon, where he is bitten. Whistle Down the Wind (musical) by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Jim Steinman features two characters who have traveled to town for a revival meeting that includes snake handling. Season Four of the FX series Justified features a character named "Billy St. Cyr" a captivating snake handling preacher. Billy dies from bites inflicted by a rattlesnake, not realizing that the bites he had previously survived were from rattlesnakes that had been milked by his sister, without his knowledge. Singer Kate Campbell wrote the song "Signs Following" about snake handlers on Sand Mountain.
Black Mountain is the highest natural point in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, USA, with a summit elevation of 4,145 feet (1,263 m) above mean sea level and a top to bottom height of over 2,500 feet (760 m). The summit is located at in Harlan County, Kentucky near the Virginia border, just above the towns of Lynch, Kentucky and Appalachia, Virginia. It is about 500 feet (150 m) taller than any other mountain in Kentucky and is one of the highest mountains in Appalachia outside the Blue Ridge Mountains region. Route 160 east of Lynch, Kentucky and west of Appalachia, Virginia crosses the mountain. The summit is reached by a narrow road that turns off to the right (coming from Lynch, KY or to the left, if coming from Appalachia, VA) at the Kentucky-Virginia line (the gap that is the highest part of Route 160) and leads past an FAA radar dome. There is a one lane dirt road to the left not far past the radar dome that leads to the summit. The summit is marked with an abandoned metal lookout tower, National Geodetic Survey benchmark (the benchmark is 6 feet below the highest point which is apparently directly under the old lookout tower) and multiple radio towers. The FAA Radar dome is nearby, but below the summit. Trees on both sides of the radar dome have been cleared, so views of other mountains are visible. On a clear day the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee and North Carolina border are clearly visible. Black Mountain's history is intimately tied to the coal mining of the surrounding region. Lynch, Kentucky, was once one of the largest coal mining towns in the nation. In 1998, Jericol Mining, Inc., petitioned to use mountaintop removal methods in the area of Black Mountain. Though the summit itself was not directly threatened, many people protested this action due to the peak's status as the state's highest point. In 1999, Kentucky purchased mineral and timber rights to the summit and prevented future large scale mining. Coal companies have alleged that mined coal veins converge beneath the summit of Black Mountain and that the summit is prone to collapse. A coal company named Penn Virginia Resources of Radnor, Pennsylvania owns the summit, but allows public access with the completion of a waiver. Black Mountain is one of the few sites in Kentucky supporting a Northern Hardwood Forest. Numerous rare plants and animals are found here, including Black Bear, Red Elderberry and Hobblebush. Like many areas of Northern Hardwood Forest in the Southern Appalachia, fires swept through the mountain after intense logging. Black Mountain has a documented fire that occurred in the fall of 1896.
George Went Hensley (c. 1880 – July 25, 1955) was an American Pentecostal minister best known for popularizing the practice of snake handling. A native of rural Appalachia, Hensley experienced a religious conversion around 1910: on the basis of a literal interpretation of scripture, he came to believe that the New Testament commanded all Christians to handle venomous snakes. Hensley was reared in a large family that had moved between Tennessee and Virginia, before settling in Tennessee prior to his birth. After his conversion he traveled through the Southeastern United States, teaching a form of Pentecostalism that emphasized strict personal holiness and frequent contact with venomous snakes. Although illiterate, he became a licensed minister of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in 1915. After traveling through Tennessee for several years conducting Church of God-sanctioned services, he resigned from his Church of God in 1922. Hensley was married four times and fathered thirteen children. He had many conflicts with his family members because of his drunkenness, frequent travels, and inability to earn steady income, factors cited by his first three wives as reasons for their divorces. Hensley was arrested in Tennessee on moonshine-related charges during the Prohibition era and sentenced to a term in a workhouse, from which he escaped and fled the state. Hensley traveled to Ohio, where he held revival services, though he and his family rarely stayed long in one location. Hensley established churches, known as the Church of God with Signs Following, in Tennessee and Kentucky. His services ranged from small meetings held in houses to large gatherings that drew media attention and hundreds of attendees. Although he conducted many services, he made little money, and he was arrested for violating laws against snake handling at least twice. During his ministry, Hensley claimed to have been bitten by many snakes without ill effect, and toward the end of his career, he estimated that he had survived more than 400 bites. In 1955, while conducting a service in Florida, he was bitten by a snake and became violently ill. He refused to seek medical attention and died the following day. Despite his personal failings, he convinced many residents of rural Appalachia that snake handling was commanded by God, and his followers continued the practice after his death. Although snake handling developed independently in several Pentecostal ministries, Hensley is generally credited with spreading the custom in the Southeastern United States. Hensley told his children he was from West Virginia and that his family's roots were in Pennsylvania. In reality, his family lived in Hawkins County, East Tennessee in 1880, the year historian David Kimbrough argues Hensley was born. One of 13 children, Hensley lived in Tennessee in Hawkins County and Loudon County in the 1880s. His family lived in Big Stone Gap, Virginia in the 1890s, and there he witnessed an elderly woman handle a snake during a revival service at a coal mining camp. His mother and sisters were very religious, and he was reared a Baptist. Hensley left the Baptist church in 1901, the year he married Amanda Winniger. The couple moved to her brother's 400-acre (1.6 km2) farm in Ooltewah, where they lived in a shack. Hensley found work in local ore mines, helped in his brother-in-law's lumber business, and was involved in the production of moonshine, a common practice in the region. Hensley experienced a conversion while attending a Holiness Pentecostal Church of God service in Ooltewah, led by an evangelist's teenage son. He forsook alcohol, tobacco, and friendships with those he deemed "worldly". Hensley was initially content following his experience at the Church of God, but he began to question whether he was living a sufficiently righteous life. He became fixated on a passage in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:17–18, KJV: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name... They shall take up serpents") which suggested that Christians might take up "serpents" without injury. Psychologists Ralph W. Hood and W. Paul Williamson, as well as one of Hensley's children, have proposed that his preoccupation with this verse arose from a childhood memory of witnessing snake handling in Virginia. Hensley later recalled that he began to doubt his salvation and withdrew to a nearby hill to pray and seek God's will. In a 1947 newspaper interview, he claimed to have seen a snake while walking on the hill. He said that he knelt in prayer, took hold of it, then brought it to his church and told the congregation to also prove their salvation by holding the snake. Hensley's first experience with snake handling occurred between 1908 and 1914, after which he held snake-handling services in parts of rural Tennessee. His supporters later asserted that a revival broke out at the start of his ministry, a claim considered dubious by historians. At first, the Church of God did not object to his snake-handling services, and in 1914, he held a snake-handling meeting with a Church of God bishop in Cleveland, Tennessee. The next year, Hensley applied to be licensed as a Church of God minister, but required his wife's assistance to complete the paperwork owing to his illiteracy. He had memorized some Bible verses but also stated that he received divine revelation while speaking. After being licensed, Hensley held Church of God services throughout Tennessee, including revival services at church general assemblies. He preached about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, a Pentecostal teaching that referred to an additional spiritual experience after conversion. His ministry was often mentioned in Church of God newsletters, and his wife Amanda contributed an article about him. In the 1910s, Hensley is thought to have led churches in Grasshopper Valley (northwest of Cleveland), Cleveland, and Birchwood, Tennessee. Hensley was short, normally soft-spoken, and friendly with churchgoers. Most attendees at his services were miners or farmers from the Appalachian Mountains; congregants typically arrived at services on horseback or in a Ford Model A. Many were from Holiness Pentecostal backgrounds, but unfamiliar with the snake-handling practice. Hensley's sister Bertha, who lived in Ohio, was also a licensed minister with the Church of God. In 1922, he conducted services with her in Ohio. Around that time, more articles documenting his ministry were published in the denomination's newsletter, and by the early 1920s, snakes were regularly handled in Church of God services. In 1922, Hensley resigned from the Church of God, citing "trouble in the home". His resignation marked the zenith of the practice of snake handling in the denomination. He separated from Amanda around this time, possibly owing to his temper or drunkenness. Arrested on moonshine-related charges in 1923, he was sentenced to four months in jail and fined $100. (This occurred during the Prohibition Era, when alcohol production and consumption were illegal in the U.S.) In lieu of jail time, he was permitted to serve the sentence at the Silverdale workhouse. He was initially placed on a chain gang constructing roads, but the guards found him likable and gave him other assignments. After being sent to a nearby well for water, Hensley fled and evaded recapture, possibly by hiding in the mountains near his sister's farm in Ooltewah. While a fugitive, he may have been arrested and released on unrelated charges. He ultimately fled Tennessee to his sister's house in Ohio. After arriving in Ohio, Hensley returned to his personal ministry and held services in the area. Because he was illiterate, Bertha would read passages from the Bible during services, after which Hensley would deliver a sermon on a theme drawn from the verses. He also frequently preached on the topic of faith healing during this period. He remained in Ohio for several years, divorcing Amanda in 1926. While ministering at a Salvation Army church in Ohio in 1926, Hensley met Irene Klunzinger. He married her in 1927, although he was about 25 years her senior. After the wedding, they moved to Washingtonville, Ohio, near one of Hensley's brothers. There Hensley found employment at a coal mine and Irene gave birth to their first child. They later moved to nearby Malvern, Ohio, where she bore their second child. In 1932, Hensley and his family moved to Pineville, Kentucky, after a religious layman, who had seen Hensley handle snakes in Chattanooga, entreated him to come to the area. He returned to ministry and built the Pineville Church of God. Hensley established the church himself and characterized it as a "free Pentecostal" church. He continued to move frequently, a practice which Thomas Burton of East Tennessee State University attributes to "wanderlust". In July 1935, Irene gave birth to a child in Pennington Gap, Virginia, and a month later, they were living in St. Charles, Virginia while Hensley performed snake-handling services in the area. He successfully drew crowds to his preaching. In Norton, Virginia, 500 people attended an event, although that service was thrown into disarray after a boy in the audience killed one of the snakes. In 1936, Hensley built a house on the back of a trailer truck and drove to Florida to hold revival services. By March 1936, he had reached Tampa, Florida, where he drew over 100 people to a snake-handling service. He traveled to Bartow, Florida, where over 700 people attended one of his tent meetings. He subsequently ministered in Bloomingdale, Florida, before traveling north to Barrow County, Georgia in late April. During a service in Barrow, a young agricultural worker was bitten by a snake and became ill. Hensley spoke to reporters and claimed that the man was bitten because he was "not quite ready for the demonstrations of the power". He predicted that the young man would miraculously recover, but the man died. This was the first death by snakebite to occur at one of Hensley's services. He conducted the man's funeral and left the area for fear of prosecution. His conduct was condemned by a local newspaper. Hensley traveled to Ohio to bring one of his sons to live with a sister of Irene while attending school. Hensley then returned to Pineville, where he worked as a railroad conductor and pastored the East Pineville Church of God. He was arrested for handling snakes and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1939. He subsequently bought a farm near Knoxville. Hensley lived in Tennessee until at least late 1941. He then moved to Evansville, Indiana, after separating from Irene. After a brief stay in Pineville, Hensley returned to Ooltewah in 1943. There he stayed with family members and held religious services. However, snake handling had lost popularity since the late 1920s and groups that promoted nontrinitarianism had become popular. Various churches in the area barred those who practiced snake handling from membership. In 1943, Raymond Hayes, a young adherent of Hensley's teachings, arrived in the Ooltewah area and began successfully preaching about snake handling. Hensley and Hayes started a church together in 1945, which they named the "Dolly Pond Church of God with Signs Following". Later in 1945, a member of the church was bitten by a snake and died. The members of the church continued to handle snakes at services, however, including at the funeral of the man who died from snakebite. The man's death was viewed as ordained by God to test the faith of the congregants, and to demonstrate to non-believers that the snakes they handled were, in fact, dangerous. That year, Hensley was arrested for snake handling in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was given a $50 fine, which he refused to pay even when threatened with a workhouse sentence. He was released after members of his church appealed to authorities. Hensley continued to travel around Tennessee, receiving a mixed reception from those who were aware of his past. Some who knew him were willing to forgive him and welcome him back in a ministerial role, but he remained estranged from most of his family. His son Roscoe saw him preach in 1944. The younger Hensley was also a pastor by then, but had never seen his father conduct a service. In 1946, Hensley married for the third time, but his wife, Inez Hutchinson, left him after less than a year of marriage. After their separation, Hensley began to preach in Chattanooga. During services, he began asserting that he had been miraculously healed after being paralyzed for a year following a coal-mining accident. Kimbrough disputes his claim, noting that there is no one-year gap in the records of Hensley moving or actively ministering. Hensley continued to live in Chattanooga until the early 1950s; he moved to Athens, Georgia in the early to mid-1950s. Hensley was the father of eight children with his first wife, Amanda. He became estranged from Amanda in 1922. One of their children claimed that the separation occurred after an incident in which Hensley became drunk and fought a neighbor. Amanda left the area and found work in a Chattanooga hosiery mill, but soon became ill and bedridden. Hensley's sister and brother-in-law traveled to Chattanooga to care for her. Hensley had five children with his second wife, Irene. She was from a prosperous Lutheran family of German descent but believed that she was suffering a curse. She and her family had hoped that Hensley could free her from the curse, but he was unable to. The marriage was contentious due to Hensley's frequent unemployment and poor treatment of Irene. He found intermittent work, including bricklaying, but Irene's family had to help support them; her mother provided the family with clothing. After seven years of marriage, Irene left Hensley and returned to her family. However, she later returned to Hensley and reconciled with him. One of their sons recalled that Irene was much more religious than Hensley, whom he claims only spoke about spiritual matters if there were church leaders present. Hensley was again separated from Irene around 1941. The cause of the estrangement is unknown, although one of their sons claimed that she threatened to have him arrested around that time. However, she reconciled with him after he promised to find steady employment, and they returned to Pineville with their children. Hensley wanted to put their children in an orphanage so Irene could travel with him, but she refused. After a visit from her sister, Irene again left him; she and her children went to live with Hensley's children from his first marriage. A divorce was granted in 1943. Irene later died of complications following surgery for goiter. Hensley attended the wake and visited his children, but departed without them and did not return. Hensley met Inez Hutchinson, a widow with ten children, in 1946 while performing a service in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. After Hensley spoke with her, she accepted the doctrine of snake handling. He soon proposed marriage, and she accepted. They lived in the Soddy-Daisy area for several months. Although he had hoped that she would travel with him and read Bible passages during his services, she left him after less than a year of marriage, and their union was soon dissolved. In 1951, Hensley married Sally Norman in Chattanooga. After their marriage, she traveled with him as he ministered in Tennessee and Kentucky. In early July 1955, Hensley began a series of meetings near Altha, Florida. He conducted the meetings without snakes for three weeks, before procuring a 5-foot (1.5 m) snake and bringing it to a Sunday afternoon service on July 24. Several dozen people gathered at an abandoned blacksmith shop for the observance. During the service, Hensley loudly delivered a sermon on the topic of faith. He removed the snake from the lard can in which it was stored, wrapped it around his neck, and rubbed it on his face. He walked around the audience while preaching and then returned the snake to the can. As he placed the snake into the can, it bit him on his wrist. After a few minutes, Hensley became visibly ill, experiencing severe pain, a discolored arm, and hematemesis. He refused medical attention, although he remained in pain and was urged to seek treatment both by congregants and the Calhoun County Sheriff. One eyewitness claimed that Hensley attributed his suffering to the congregation's lack of faith, although his wife Sally stated that she believed it was the will of God. Hensley died early the next morning. The Calhoun County Sheriff ruled his death a suicide. Hensley's relatives traveled from Tennessee to Florida for his funeral, at which a country music band played. He was buried two days after his death at a cemetery 2 miles (3.2 km) from the blacksmith shop where he was bitten. After the funeral, some of the congregants met and declared their intention to continue handling snakes. Sally resolved to continue spreading her late husband's teachings, saying after the incident that she had not lost "an ounce of faith". Hensley's theology, with the exception of his snake handling, was typical of other fundamentalist Pentecostal churches. His teachings on personal holiness bore a resemblance to doctrines of the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. In his sermons he condemned a number of practices as sinful, including gambling, consuming alcohol, wearing lipstick, and playing baseball. 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. The 17th and 18th verses in chapter 16 of the Gospel of Mark formed the core of Hensley's justification of snake handling and other miraculous activities (he also drank poison in some services, including strychnine and battery acid). He interpreted the passage as a command, rather than an observation of events that occurred in the lives of some Apostles, as Christians have traditionally interpreted the verses. By handling snakes, he saw himself as part of a continuing tradition that originated in a New Testament injunction. He upheld the ability to handle venomous snakes without harm as proof of salvation and evidence of steadfast faith, linking the practice to speaking in tongues. To him, snake handling was a modern-day confirmation of God's power to supernaturally deliver people from harm. He often cast snakes as a representation of the Devil, labeled as unbelievers those who rejected the observance of snake handling, and interpreted the legal difficulties he encountered as religious persecution. Many writers have attempted to designate one person, often Hensley, as the progenitor of Appalachian religious snake handling. Although these writers have emphasized Hensley's role in propagating the practice, Kimbrough notes that claims that he originated it are usually unsubstantiated by research, and the origins of the observance are unclear. Hood and Williamson argue that the beginnings of Pentecostal snake handling rites cannot be ascribed to a single person, and that the observance arose independently on multiple occasions. There is no doubt among historians, however, that Hensley helped spread Pentecostal snake handling throughout the Southeast, and that media coverage of Hensley's ministry was influential in prompting various churches to include the practice in their services. Media coverage of the movement has focused on popular leaders, such as Hensley, and the deaths of ministers by snakebite have received particular attention. Practitioners of snake handling continue to view Hensley as a great man. Kimbrough recorded a discussion with an advocate of snake handling who dismissed Hensley's personal failings as slanderous fabrications. His advocacy, leadership, and – in particular – his personal charisma were important factors in the advancement of the movement.
Pineville is a city in and the county seat of Bell County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 2,093 at the 2000 census. It is located on a small strip of land between the Cumberland River and Pine Mountain. Pineville is one of the oldest settlements in Kentucky, tracing back to 1781 and a settlement called Cumberland Ford. It was part of a tract of land once owned by Isaac Shelby, Kentucky's first governor. When Bell County was formed in 1867, Cumberland Ford was the obvious choice, but a courthouse was not completed until 1871. The settlement incorporated in 1889 as Pineville. Its riverside location has made it subject to flooding, including a devastating incident on April 4, 1977, in which a floodwall built in 1952 was overwhelmed and 200 houses were destroyed or damaged. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers upgraded the floodwall in 1988. The economy is dependent on the coal mining industry and tourism at nearby Pine Mountain State Resort Park where the popular attraction "Chained Rock" is located, although there is some heavy manufacturing in the city. The population has declined from 2,817 in 1970. Pineville is located at (36.7620301, -83.6949176). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city covers a total land area of 1.4 square miles (3.6 km2), all land. The city is served by Pineville Independent Schools. Schools located within the district include: Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College maintains a campus in Pineville serving as the only post-secondary education institution in the city. Clear Creek Baptist Bible College As of the census of 2000, there were 2,093 people, 871 households, and 518 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,452.1 people per square mile (561.2/km²). There were 961 housing units at an average density of 666.7 per square mile (257.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.74% White, 4.30% African American, 0.24% Native American, 0.24% Asian, 0.14% from other races, and 2.34% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.91% of the population. There were 871 households out of which 27.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.6% were married couples living together, 20.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.5% were non-families. 38.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 20.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.17 and the average family size was 2.90. In the city the population was spread out with 22.5% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 19.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 82.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 76.1 males. The median income for a household in the city was $12,435, and the median income for a family was $20,625. Males had a median income of $24,125 versus $23,229 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,692. About 37.1% of families and 44.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 58.8% of those under age 18 and 30.0% of those age 65 or over.
The Church of God with Signs Following is the name applied to Pentecostal Holiness churches that practice snake handling and drinking poison in worship services, based on an interpretation of the following biblical passage: The exact membership is unknown, and has recently been estimated as low as 1,000 and as high as 5,000 with possibly fifty to a hundred congregations. According to the Encyclopedia of American Religions, churches "can be found from central Florida to West Virginia and as far west as Columbus, Ohio." The snake-handling sect of beliefs and practices go as far as to cross the border into Western Canada in 2004 to Lethbridge and Edmonton, Alberta.][ Each church body is independent and autonomous, and the denominational name is not consistent in all areas, although it is almost always some variation of the name "Church of God" (Trinitarian) or "Church of Jesus" (Non-Trinitarian). The practice of handling snakes has been made illegal in a number of states. In Tennessee, it is illegal to display any venomous reptile in a manner that endangers anyone. Alabama has a similar statute. In Kentucky, it is illegal to display any reptile at a religious ceremony. Prosecutions, however, are rare. Documentary films have been made featuring snake-handling, such as Holy Ghost People and Heaven Come Down. The practice of snake-handling first appeared in American Christianity around 1910 and was associated with the ministry of George Went Hensley of Grasshopper Valley in southeastern Tennessee. Hensley was a minister of the Church of God, now known as the Church of God (Cleveland), founded by Richard Spurling and A. J. Tomlinson. In the 1920s, the Church of God repudiated the practice of snake-handling, and Hensley and his followers formed a separate Trinitarian body. Serpent-handling in north Alabama and north Georgia originated with James Miller in Sand Mountain, Alabama at about the same time. Miller apparently developed his belief independently of any knowledge of Hensley's ministry. This section of the snake-handling churches is non-Trinitarian, and is broadly known as the Church of Lord Jesus with Signs Following. This version dominates snake-handling churches north of the Appalachians. Worship services usually include singing, praying, speaking in tongues and preaching. The front of the church, behind the pulpit, is the designated area for handling snakes. Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads (venomous snakes native to North America) are the most common, but even cobras have been used. During the service, believers may approach the front and pick up the snakes, usually raising them into the air and sometimes allowing the snakes to crawl on their bodies. The snakes are considered incarnations of demons, and handling the snakes demonstrates one's power over them. Members are not required to handle the snakes. Some believers will also engage in drinking poison (most commonly strychnine) at this time. Over sixty cases of death as the result of snakebites in religious worship services have been documented in the United States. If a handler is bitten, it is generally interpreted as a lack of faith or failure to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. But individual incidents may actually be understood in a variety of ways. Bitten believers usually do not seek medical help, but look to God for their healing. Beginning in 1936, six southeastern states outlawed snake-handling. George Went Hensley died in Florida in 1955 from a venomous snakebite. In other areas of belief, the Church of God with Signs Following holds doctrines and practices similar to related Church of God and Oneness Pentecostal bodies. They maintain a strict teaching of standards of holiness in daily living, baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing, water baptism, and footwashing. They also stress Romans 16:16 - "Salute another with a Holy Kiss." Adherents generally adhere to strict dress codes such as uncut hair, no cosmetics, the wearing of ankle-length dresses with pantyhose for women, and short hair and long-sleeved shirts for men. Most ministers preach against any use of all types of tobacco and alcohol. The distinctive practice of these churches is variously known as serpent-handling, snake-handling, and taking up serpents. Many people consider snake-handling to be a part of uneducated folk religion, however, churches who practice snake handling claim their scriptural mandate from the gospel of Mark 16:9-20. Curiously, this passage is arguably a later addition to Mark, and is footnoted as such in most well known translations of the Bible. Even those denominations who affirm this passage as canonical do not interpret the passage as a call to handle serpents; they regard snake handling as the grave error of "tempting God" [1] and the passage as a statement of signs demonstrating Paul's apostleship (cf. Acts 28:3-6). Snake handlers argue that it is tempting God when one picks and chooses what parts of Scripture to believe and ignore. They add that Jesus only spoke to Satan who was tempting the Lord. Satan, they argue, asked Jesus to throw himself off of a cliff when he expelled the statement, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God!". In addition they state that if God himself asked Jesus to throw himself off of the cliff instead of Satan, just as God asked Moses to pick up a serpent without question which then transformed into a rod in the Old Testament, Jesus would have done so. "Fear and the slightest form of doubt" as some handlers maintain can be enough to kill some worshippers which is why they encourage those, who have fear and doubt, not to partake in such heterodox practices unless they are living a morally correct life of holiness and total trust in God's Will.
Christ Church Episcopal is a historic church at Church and Market Streets in Lexington, Kentucky. It was built in 1845 and added to the National Register in 1976.
Floral Hall is a building designed by John McMurtry in Lexington, Kentucky. It is notable for its architecture and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

The Pentecostal Church of God (PCG) is a trinitarian Pentecostal Christian denomination headquartered in Bedford, Texas, United States. As of 2006, there were 117,000 members and 2,870 clergy in 1,170 churches in the United States. Sixty churches and missions exist among the Native Americans. Worldwide, over 5,200 churches have been established outside the United States, and international membership is over 500,000 members in 52 different countries.]citation needed[

The PCG is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Pentecostal World Conference and the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America. The church's official publication is The Pentecostal Messenger.

Harlan County Kentucky Religion

The Kentucky General Assembly, also called the Kentucky Legislature, is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Kentucky.

The General Assembly meets annually in the state capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky, convening on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January. In even-numbered years, sessions may not last more than 60 legislative days, and cannot extend beyond April 15. In odd-numbered years, sessions may not last more than 30 legislative days, and cannot extend beyond March 30. Special sessions may be called by the Governor of Kentucky at any time for any duration.


George Went Hensley (c. 1880 – July 25, 1955) was an American Pentecostal minister best known for popularizing the practice of snake handling. A native of rural Appalachia, Hensley experienced a religious conversion around 1910: on the basis of a literal interpretation of scripture, he came to believe that the New Testament commanded all Christians to handle venomous snakes.

Hensley was reared in a large family that had moved between Tennessee and Virginia, before settling in Tennessee prior to his birth. After his conversion he traveled through the Southeastern United States, teaching a form of Pentecostalism that emphasized strict personal holiness and frequent contact with venomous snakes. Although illiterate, he became a licensed minister of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in 1915. After traveling through Tennessee for several years conducting Church of God-sanctioned services, he resigned from the denomination in 1922. Hensley was married four times and fathered thirteen children. He had many conflicts with his family members because of his drunkenness, frequent travels, and inability to earn steady income, factors cited by his first three wives as reasons for their divorces.

Harlan Hubbard (January 4, 1900 - January 16, 1988) was an American artist and author who lived a simple life that Henry David Thoreau only experimented with.

Hubbard was born in Bellevue, Kentucky. His father died when Harlan was only seven. Soon thereafter, his mother moved him to New York City to be with his two older brothers who were living there at the time. (One of his brothers, Lucien Hubbard (1888-1971), became a famous Hollywood screenwriter.) Hubbard attended Childs High School in the Bronx and received his art education from New York's National Academy of Design and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In 1919, he returned with his mother to northern Kentucky and settled in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.


Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia. The practice plays only a small part of the church service of churches that practice snake handling. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke to support the practice:

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. (Mark 16:17-18)

Snakes Religion Belief

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