Among the few rural fundamentalist Christian
churches that believe in the practice of snake handling, one pastor has
paid the ultimate price for his beliefs and died of snake bite. Mark
Randall "Mack" Wolford, 44, of West Virginia, was bitten during an outdoor Sunday service in Panther State Forest, aaccording to the Associated Press and ABC News.
Wolford had followed his father into the ministry of snake handling, even though he had witnessed his father's death by snake bite in 1983. Wolford was bitten on the thigh about 2 p.m. on Sunday, The snake was a yellow timber rattler that he had often handled before. Instead of seeking immediate medical help, Wolford was taken to the nearby home of a relative to recover as he had when bitten before, however his condition worsened. It was not until 10:30 p.m. that he finally went to the hospital.
According to the Church Education Resource Ministries, the religious practice of snake handling began sometime in the early part of the 20th century and came out of the Pentecostal-Holiness movement. The practice is based on New Testament texts: Mark 16:18. 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; and Luke 10:19: 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.
The man attributed with founding the practice, George Went Hensley, died in 1955 after being bitten by a snake during a Sunday service. He refused all medical treatment and claimed that he was bitten because of the congregations lack of faith. His death was ruled a suidice (Wikipedia).
While snake handling is outlawed in most states, it is still legal in the state of West Virginia. Wolford had been trying to revitalize the practice.