Officials have seized about 50 reptiles, including rattlesnakes and copperheads, from the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Pastor Andrew Hamblin, the star of the National Geographic reality show "Snake Salvation," has been cited with possession of wildlife dangerous to humans.
"I'm not going to lie. They asked if they [snakes] were at my house, I said no, but when they asked if they were at the church, I said yes," WBIR.com quotes serpent handling Pastor Hamblin as saying of the seizing of the reptiles, which included some non-native species.
Hamblin, who appears in "Snake Salvation," which debuted in early September, believes his church was targeted because of the show. "A lot of these churches they hid away, they hide out. I don't have anything to hide."
Knoxville Zoo is caring for the snakes. Phil Colclough, director of animal collections and conservation at Knoxville Zoo, says, "We'll care for them like we would any other animal that comes into the zoo."
Serpent handling is banned in Tennessee since 1947, and Hamblin has been cited with possession of class I wildlife, according to WBIR. He is due to appear in a Campbell County court on Friday.
The adherents of the 100-year-old practice, which is common among a sect of Pentecostal Christians that number about 1,000, believe they are instructed by Jesus Christ in Mark 16:15-18, specifically verses 17 and 18 in the King James Version, to pick up serpents.
Hamblin has reportedly been bitten on at least three occasions, but he alleges his religious freedom is being violated.
"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," the pastor says. "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."
Hamblin also says he kept the reptiles "well-fed," and "there is a heater to keep them warm when it's cold."
"I believe in the power of God… But here I am I'm getting snakes took, I'm facing jail time, I'm facing being taken away from my wife, my children, I'm facing being pulled out of my church just simply because I went out in the woods and caught a rattlesnake and I brought it to a service because I believe the Bible said they shall take up serpents."
Despite the action, Hamblin says church services will continue with serpent handling in the future.
The "Snake Salvation" show has fascinated, repulsed and confused readers over the practice of serpent handling.
The Christian Post earlier spoke to Pastor Jamie Coots of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky., who serves as a mentor of sorts for Pastor Hamblin.
"I don't see how God can be tempted with His Word when He tells us to do it," Coots said, responding to criticism. "I feel as long as we wait on the anointing to do it, we're not tempting God."
It's a sign to show that God has power over something that He created that could cause death, Coots added. "It doesn't build our faith. To me, your faith doesn't even come into play unless you get bit. As you get bitten, then your faith comes into play, cause either you're going to trust God or you're going to a doctor and trust man."
Coots said he has asthma and he goes to the doctor for that. "I'd go for that. The reason I don't go for a serpent bite, is I have seen people who did go with serpent bites, and nurses and doctors don't act very professional," he said, of medical practitioners' tendency to advise not to handle serpents.
CP also spoke to Hamblin earlier, and he suggested that if others who believe as he does came forward, their group "could be as mainstream as the Southern Baptists," which claims more than 15 million members.
"If I go to my service tonight and God moves on me and I mean the Holy Ghost anoints that place and you got people shouting, you got people getting saved, people getting healed, delivered, and God moves on me to pull out a four-and-a-half foot rattlesnake and it lays fangs into me, if I'm anointed by God, that snake is not going to harm me," Hamblin said. "I don't care if it bites me 20 times, there'll be no harm. When the anointing of God moves, there is no harm," he went on to say, and added it's a sign to the nonbeliever of God's power.