“After he was bitten and collapsed on the ground, Cody asked to be taken to the mountaintop where God would judge whether he should live or die.”
Cody Coots is the head of a Kentucky church where worshipers handle snakes and drink poison to prove their devotion to God.
Drenched in his own blood, Cody Coots had to be carried out of the Full Gospel Tabernacle church, one of the few in the country which still allows snake-handling.
Cody’s father Jamie, 42, was killed when a rattlesnake bit him in a similar ritual back in 2014 but that does not put him off performing the same death-defying service.
After he was bitten and collapsed on the ground, Cody asked to be taken to the mountaintop where God would judge whether he should live or die.
But his friend, also named Cody, instead drove him to the hospital where a doctor said the snake came close to severing his temporal artery which would have killed him.
Cody’s friend said: “Most people bit in the face are dead in five, ten minutes. I mean, his own dad got bit in the hand and within seven minutes was dead.”
And these chilling scenes were filmed as part of a new documentary entitled My Life Inside: The Snake Church.
The two-part film follows Cody as he recovers from the bite and re-evaluates his life and faith in the wake of his brush with death.
His church’s unique way of proving their religious devotion is inspired by the biblical verse in Mark 16:18: “They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them.”
The death of Cody’s father thrust him into the pastor’s role at the age of just 23, making him the fourth generation to take up the snake-handling vocation.
Cody said: “When the Bible says serpents, it means a poisonous snake. When the old man got bit he died within probably 10 minutes, it’s a nasty bite.
“Every time he’d ever got bitten, I’d never seen him drop a snake. And I’ve seen the snake hit the floor I thought, ‘We’ll just take him home’.
“He walked back to the bathroom and the last words he did say to me was, ‘My face feels like it’s on fire’.
“I stepped out of the bathroom and then I heard a scream and when I went back there he just went limp.”
Cody and his congregation’s beliefs mean they continue to risk their health – and lives – at their Sunday services.
During the services, worshippers lay hands on the sick, pray, sing, and listen to sermons led by Pastor Cody, who often picks up snakes from a box and carries one or two of them aloft while he preaches.
As the congregation becomes more and more enraptured by the message, they often shout, sing or even speak in tongues, while praising the Lord.
The service reaches its peak when those who feel moved by the Holy Spirit are invited to come up to the front to handle fire, drink poisons and hold up the snakes for themselves – all while singing and dancing.
Around 14 people regularly worship each Sunday, but services can last between 90 minutes and up to five hours, depending on the fervour and intensity of the occasion.
Cody’s wife Tammy, 25, said: “That church is their blood, you know. It started with their family and it’s going down with their family.
“It is not for me. I wasn’t raised in this religion. I met Cody through my dad and we just clicked. I was just, like, crazy over him.
“I and Cody didn’t talk about religion until after we got married and all I said is, ‘God, what did I get myself into’?
“I do worry that Cody is going to leave this world like his dad did. I don’t ever want that to happen to him because I love him.”
The church can be seen as repressive towards women, who are not allowed to wear make-up, and must dress in skirts instead of pants.