Sects: Snake Power

Last August, during an evening service at the white frame Holiness Church of God in Jesus' Name at Big Stone Gap, Va., Oscar Pelfrey. 65, stood before the congregation holding a pair of writhing timber rattlesnakes. "I believe, Jesus, O Jesus, I believe—thank you, Jesus!" cried Pelfrey, a lay minister of the church. Suddenly, one of the rattlers struck him on the left temple. Taken home, he refused medical attention and died six hours later.

Last week a Virginia Circuit Court of Appeals convicted a member of the Big Stone Gap congregation, Roscoe Mullins, 50, of violating a state law...

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