Watching a snake-handler die

By » Thu, June 7 2012
Pastor Randy Wolford 450x340 Watching a snake handler die

Donald Dover, left, of North Carolina and Jamie Lloyd of Sidney, Ohio, right, support Pastor Randy "Mack" Wolford after he was bitten by a venomous snake. He later died. (img by Lauren Pond)

You may have heard that the somewhat-renown Pentecostal pastor Mack Wolford recently died, having succumbed to a rattlesnake bite. And while my first instinct is to chuckle, ’cause come on, this guy, for all his beliefs, is going to be remembered as a Darwin Awards candidate.

Not that he shouldn’t be remembered for that, but after reading this editorial by the photojournalist who sat by his side and documented his death, expands on what it means to die, slowly, for something you believe in, and what it means to watch it happen…

Mack’s family has accepted his death as something that he knew was coming and something that was ultimately God’s will. The pastor believed every word of the Bible and laid down his life for his conviction, they said. For them, his death is an affirmation of the Signs Following tradition: “His faith is what took him home,” said his sister Robin Vanover, 38.

Some of the people who attended last Sunday’s service have struggled with Mack’s death, as I have. “Sometimes, I feel like we’re all guilty of negligent homicide,” one man wrote to me in a Facebook message following Mack’s death. “I went down there a ‘believer.’ That faith has seriously been called into question. I was face-to-face with him and watched him die a gruesome death. . . . Is this really what God wants?”

That’s a good question.

I know many photojournalists have been in situations similar to mine. Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Carter photographed an emaciated Sudanese child struggling to reach a food center during a famine — as a vulture waited nearby. He was roundly criticized for not helping the child, which, along with the disturbing memories of the events he had covered and other factors, may have contributed to his suicide. As photojournalists, we have a unique responsibility to record history and share stories in as unbiased and unobtrusive a way as possible. But when someone is hurt and suffering, we have to balance our instincts as professionals with basic human decency and care.

I can’t say I know what I would do in a similar situation. Read the whole thing here. Also die less by not handling snakes. Durr.

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