These Signs Shall Follow: the serpent-handling Christians of Appalachia

Aja L. Bain

Abstract


This paper traces the roots and development of the Church of God with Signs Following, a charismatic Christian group of worshippers that has been increasingly investigated and publicized by the courts and media in the last half century. A Church of God with Signs Following service is much like any other within the Pentecostal Holiness tradition, utilizing spiritual gifts such as “glossolalia” (speaking in tongues) and healing, but with a few important exceptions: members regularly take up poisonous serpents and imbibe deadly toxins during the course of worship. According to members, their ways are Biblically justified and they are subject to no law but God’s. This unique tradition has caused widespread notoriety and stigmatization of the group and to their current position as one of the least understood sects of Christianity. This paper also examines their particular beliefs and practices to explain and hopefully dispel the basis of the modern-day view of the group as deviants from Christianity, or as members of a barbaric cult. The presence of the church as a uniquely rural and southern phenomenon is also explored, as well as popular opinion and litigation that the church has historically faced. Above all, we seek an understanding of how and why this particular (and undeniably peculiar) denomination has endured and staked its claim as a legitimate religious institution in a land where it has been the object of fear and ridicule for decades.

Keywords


Sign Followers; Appalachian Christianity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15695/vurj.v5i0.2809

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