Faith, Serpents, and Fire: Images of Kentucky Holiness Believers

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University Press of Mississippi, 1999 - Photography - 94 pages
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The serpent handlers of eastern rural Kentucky are Christians who interpret the Bible literally. In this they are quite similar to many other evangelical Christians in the South and elsewhere. Their daily lives are no different, no more or less mundane, than those of their neighbors or of the inhabitants of any small town in America. And yet they choose to handle deadly serpents, expose themselves to the flames of kerosene lamps, and drink poison as part of their church services. The rationale for these actions is their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and their belief in signs.Scott Schwartz documents in pictures and interviews the culture, music, and activities encountered during serpent-handling services at three small churches in rural eastern Kentucky. He provides a firsthand account of a service in its entirety and brings the reader intimately close to the believers he is chronicling This book produces the unforgettable experience of witnessing spiritual anointings, acts of faith with fire and serpents, and revelations of what happens physically and emotionally when the Holy Spirit descends upon the congregation. Without casting any judgment and without intruding upon sacred space, Schwartz reveals the convictions that motivate these believers.This is not just a study of serpent handlers, however, for Schwartz refuses to focus on one or two individuals and instead attempts to document an entire community-husbands, wives, and children, those who take up serpents and those who do not. Along with other worshipers, Punkin Brown, whose wife Melinda died from snake bites in 1995, speaks of his faith and how a shaken community came together following the death of a belovedmember.In the study of religion in the American South, Schwartz's is a distinctive new voice. With restraint and empathy he opens a window on understanding a controversial practice. His personal and sympathetic portrait of this much-misunderstood group reveals the thoughts and opinions of the people who_choose to worship in this fashion.

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In the Beginning
S3 A Gift of the Holy Spirit
Death Where Is Thy Sting?

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About the author (1999)

Schwartz is an archivist at the Archives Center, National museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

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