Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, 44, a Pentecostal preacher in West Virginia, died this past weekend after receiving a bite from a rattlesnake he was handling during an outdoor church service, according to The Washington Post. Wolford, the son of a snake handler who also died as a result of a bite, was attempting to continue the practice in the church even as some state laws forbid it. After passing the snake to relatives during the service, Wolford took the snake back and sat down next to it on the ground, where it bit him on the leg. He died later that evening at Bluefield Regional Medical Center.
Wolford and his serpent-handling practice had been the subject of a feature profile by The Washington Post Magazine just months earlier. “Anybody can do it that believes it,” he said in the interview. “Jesus said, ‘These signs shall follow them which believe.’ This is a sign to show people that God has the power.”
Serpent-handlers believe the Bible requires to handle snakes as a test of their faith, citing Mark 16:17–18. If bitten, these often flamboyant pastors depend on God alone for their healing. Several states have banned the practice, including Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, and most Pentecostal denominations condemn it, but Wolford was determined to revive it in 21st century Christianity. Wolford owned eight snakes of his own and routinely traveled the remote areas of the state looking for others.