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Differential Maintenance and Growth of Religious Organizations Based upon High-Cost Behaviors: Serpent Handling within the Church of God

W. Paul Williamson and Ralph W. Hood, Jr.
Review of Religious Research
Vol. 46, No. 2 (Dec., 2004), pp. 150-168
DOI: 10.2307/3512230
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3512230
Page Count: 19
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Differential Maintenance and Growth of Religious Organizations Based upon High-Cost Behaviors: Serpent Handling within the Church of God
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Abstract

The Church of God (COG, Cleveland, Tennessee) is one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the world. A distinctive characteristic of Pentecostalism in general, and of the COG in particular, is glossolalia, which is accepted as biblical warrant for possession by the Holy Ghost. This paper uses historical documents, especially articles in the Church of God Evangel (COGE) to document that, as the early COG carefully socially constructed the importance of tongues-speaking as evidence for Holy Ghost possession, they also encouraged, supported, and utilized serpent handling as another biblically warranted sign. Over time, however, as the church grew from a small sect to denominational status, it came to oppose serpent handling. The churches that refused to abandon this practice became "renegade" Churches of God and remain as such to the present time. Recent modifications in church-sect theory account for both the maintenance of serpent handling as a high-cost religious practice among renegade Churches of God and its abandonment as a high-cost religious behavior within the more mainstream COG.

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