Old Times Gospel Church in Sunny Bog, Florida recently added a new practice to their worship services—shark handling.
Judson Whitehead, pastor of the church, requested the baptismal tank be converted to a salt water aquarium to accommodate a number of small bull and tiger sharks during last year’s budget meeting. The updates were completed last month.
“Mark 16:17-18 is clear that believers in the last day will handle serpents without harm,” said Whitehead in a recent interview. “If those luke-warm yankees in West Virginia honor God by handling snakes, we figured we could honor him better with sharks.”
Last Wednesday’s faith meeting did not go as planned for the church, however, when a visiting participant had to be taken to the local emergency with numerous bites. Clyde Stufflebum, cousin and ex-husband of church tambourine player Anita Goodbath, was released yesterday after receiving over three-hundred stitches. Despite the misfortune, church leaders and members are still convinced the addition was a good idea:
“I’ve always been suspicious of that Stufflebum,” said Mo the Deacon. “We’ve heard rumors that he goes to a Presbyterian Church, and that he reads another Bible [referring to the English Standard Version]. This is just God’s confirmation of what we already knew.”
When we asked Goodbath about her cousin’s misfortune, she replied: “Clyde obviously didn’t know Jesus.”
The Sunny Bog City Council voted down an ordinance forbidding shark handling during their meeting Monday night, citing the Bible and religious freedom. “When I took my oath last year, I placed my hand on the Bible and promised to uphold the Constitution,” said Mayor Bobby Joe Lee. “If we take away the freedom to handle sharks, what’s next?” Lee declined to comment on the other actions of the council the same night—the passing of Ordinances 18-32 and 33, forbidding Catholic Churches within the city limits and declaring Spanish an “ungodly language.”
Meanwhile, the church plans their second “Sharing with Sharks” meeting Wednesday with optimism. “We’ll show the world that God honors obedience,” Whitehead said. “God closed the mouths of the lions, and he’ll close the mouths of sharks, politicians, and unbelievers.” When asked if he would participate directly in the handling, Whitehead said no, stating that “God blesses us all with different gifts.”