Snake Salvation is in a difficult position.
The reality show, which chronicled controversial Pastor Jamie Coots who handled live and dangerous snakes as part of his religious ritual, is planning a tribute to Coots after he died of a snake bite. But critics are worried that the show could come off as insensitive at best and exploitative at worst.
The show Snake Salvation, airing on the National Geographic Channel, offered viewers a glimpse into the small religious group who believed that God would protect them from the poisonous snakes. After Coots died last week, the network announced a special tribute Thursday, called “Snake Salvation: They Shall Take Up Serpents.”
The death of Jamie Coots itself drew considerable controversy. The pastor had instructed his family not to seek medical help if he were bitten by a snake, and when a snake did bite him during a church service last weekend they followed his wishes.
Coots had said that to him, refusing medical treatment for a snake bit was “as much a commandment from God when he said ‘they shall take up serpents,’ as it was when he said ‘thou shall not commit adultery.”
The death of the Snake Salvation pastor came within days of sentencing for a Pennsylvania couple who also refused medical treatment on religious grounds. Herbert and Catherine Schaible were already on probation after not seeking medical treatment for their 2-year-old son, who later died, when they again refused to get help for their 12-month old by stricken by treatable pneumonia. The boy later died.
National Geographic Channel executives noted the controversy Snake Salvation had brought but stood by the decision to run the special episode.
“Pastor Coots was a lovely, kind man who was good to our crew during the shooting,” said Nat Geo CEO David Lyle.”And while it may be hard for some to understand the choices he made due to his deeply held convictions, one cannot help but admire his dedication and bravery. We wanted to air this episode tomorrow night as a way to give perspective to the world-wide discussion his death has caused.”
The Snake Salvation special tribute will air Thursday at 9 pm ET on the National Geographic Channel.