NOW ON HBO! Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I have always had a fascination with the more compelling subsets of Christianity that exist there in large amounts. Pentecostalism is probably number 1 on the list of Protestant factions that might be considered weird or out there to your average Joe or Joanne. Theo Love explores a too-crazy-to-be-true, but is, story steeped in the Pentecostal Church in his HBO documentary Alabama Snake.
Snake handling has always been a controversial practice that is frowned upon by some other Christians. The reason that Pentecostals handle snakes is from Mark 16:18, which says, “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.” in reference to Christ’s followers. Most Christians do not take this particular verse literally, but Pentecostals definitely do.
“…Glenn had purposely put her hand in the snake box while holding a gun to her head…”
Dr. Thomas G. Burton is a professor at East Tennessee University. He is also the patron of the Archives of Appalachia and the author of the book Serpent and The Spirit, which Alabama Snake expands upon. Dr. Burton first got involved with snake-handling and the Pentecostal Church when he and Jack Schrader directed a film called They Shall Take Up Serpents in 1973. As he went along in his studies of snake-handling churches and other Appalachian cultural phenomena, he came upon the crazy story of Glenn Summerford, a pentecostal preacher/snake-handler, and his second wife, Darlene Summerford.
On October 4, 1991, Darlene called an ambulance to take her to the hospital because she was suffering from two poisonous snakebites. These bites were no mere accident. According to her, Glenn had purposely put her hand in the snake box while holding a gun to her head to force her to get bit. He, of course, has a different story to tell.
"…so many layers to the onion of the case, but I personally believe that Glenn did it."