The Signs Followers of southern Appalachia prefer not to be called “snake-handlers,” but “serpent-handlers,” due to the King James Version of the Bible’s use of the term.
“Chambliss lettered the words ‘Mark 16:17-18’ in black paint, and that was just about all he felt led to preach on too,” Wiley Cash writes about Carson Chambliss, a preacher at the fictional River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following outside Asheville, N.C. Cash continues his narration on Chambliss in the beginning of his New York Times bestselling novel A Land More Kind Than Home:
I’d seen people I’d known just about my whole life pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them. Holy people too. God-fearing folks that hadn’t ever acted like that a day in their lives. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God. He made them think it was all right to take that dare if they believed.
Cash tells me that he learned about serpent-handling worship services in an undergraduate class on Appalachian history at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and he used the introduction to this faith tradition to develop Chambliss’s character. “I didn’t see it as something exotic or strange,” Cash says. “I just saw it as something that was realistic to the place, its people, and their traditions.”
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