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Custody of 'snake-bite orphans' split between grandparents

Snake handling
Some people believe snake-handling is a test of faith  
February 12, 1999
Web posted at: 11:44 a.m. EST (1644 GMT)

NEWPORT, Tennessee (CNN) -- A judge ruled Friday that grandparents will share the custody of five children whose parents both died handling snakes during church services.

During the school year, maternal grandmother Mary Goswick will have custody of the children, Jonathan, 12; Jacob and Jeremiah, 7; Sarah, 5; and Daniel, 4, the juvenile court judge ordered.

His ruling said that the paternal grandparents, John and Peggy Brown, who also believe in handling serpents, can have custody of the children during the summer and during holidays as long as they don't take the children to services where snakes are handled.

John and Peggy Brown
John and Peggy Brown admit to taking their grandchildren to snake-handling services in the past  

The Browns, who have their own snake-handling church in Marshall, North Carolina, have admitted that they have already taken the children to a snake-handling service, in violation of a previous order from the judge, but said they would refrain in the future.

Their son, John Wayne "Punkin" Brown Jr., a preacher from Parrottsville, Tennessee, had been bitten more than 20 times over an 18-year period before he suffered a fatal snake bite in an Alabama church last October. He was 34.

His 28-year-old wife, Melinda, mother of their five children, died of a bite in 1995 at a religious revival in Kentucky.

The book of Mark in the Bible's New Testament calls serpent handling one of the "signs" that true believers must follow.


Snake handling in some Pentecostal churches derives from this passage in the Bible:

"They will pick up serpents (with their hands), and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them." -- Mark 16: 17-18

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.


RELATED SITES:
The OFFICIAL site of the United Pentecostal Church International
Pensacola News Journal: NEWS: A Pentacostal View
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