The Musings 20 by Rev.Dr. Joe Joseph Kuruvilla
Read: Joshua 24
Indian Christians especially those belonging to church's founded by Apostle Thomas, will always remember the Coonan Cross Oath. This oath was taken on January 16th, 1653, at Mattanchery and this is considered as a historic declaration of faith by the early church believers in Kerala. The way the oath was taken was very unique. The believers came together and they held together a rope tied to a Cross, and declared in unison that they will not be bound nor will submit to the ecclesiastical authority of Rome. This was because a number of faith practices of the Catholic Church was being subtly incorporated into the faith living of early church believers in Kerala. This marked the beginning of the Independent Malankara Church. When the church faced a crisis at that particular time of history, in terms of faith and faith living, the believers came together to affirm and uphold their faith convictions. This week another significant declaration of faith has taken place and this is termed as the "Manhattan Declaration". Manhattan declaration is declaration signed by more than half million people from this country, belonging to Orthodox, Catholic and other Evangelical Christians. These half million Christians have filed a "friend of court" [ amicus] brief before the Supreme Court of United States, communicating to the court that sanctity of life, dignity of marriage and freedom of religion needs to be upheld. The context of this declaration is that this year Supreme Court of United States is going to examine two high profile cases that will determine the future on the concept of marriage and family in this country. The high profile cases include the Hollingsworth v Perry, which will examine whether gay or lesbians have a fundamental right to marriage, while the second high profile case is that of Windsor v United States, and this is the case that will review the federal law which defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman. In the background of all these high profile cases being heard by the Supreme Court, the Christians, who signed the Manhattan Declaration want the Supreme Court to uphold importance of traditional concept of family. Family that is defined as consisting of one father and one mother, a male-female family institution and it is this concept of family and environment that is needed to be affirmed in raising and nurturing of children. The declaration identifies the societal circumstances that have led to the acceptance of same sex marriage, and which has brought about decline in societal function and also a harsh increase in religious oppression. The declaration also wanted to refute the argument of the advocates of same sex marriage that people who defend traditional understanding of marriage and family are motivated by bigotry and irrational claims. It was on last Monday, January 28, 2013, that John Mauck a Chicago attorney, who filed the brief in the Supreme Court. Manhattan declaration thus becomes another significant declaration or affirmation of faith at time when people tend to get very complacent about issues that is affecting the very core of the existence of human life and society.
In Joshua 24, we find another declaration of faith. The background of this declaration of faith is a time when the chosen nation and the people have reached the promised land. The people who have reached the promised land is now enjoying the fruits of the labour of faith of their parents and their grandparents. Now with prosperity reigning in the land, Joshua gives a warning to the people of Israel. What he does is that, he assembles all the tribe of Israel, which included the elders, the leaders, the judges and all the officials. It is in such an august audience that he tells them that they need to uphold some basic tenets of faith. What is it that Joshua tell them to uphold?. He tells them not to forget their past, their roots and how miraculously and faithfully God led them to the promised land. Now with their life becoming comfortable, without any crisis involved, Joshua exhorts that they should take a decision that whatever be the changes that occur in the social and religious life, they will always serve the Lord. What Joshua actually warns the people is that they may feel sometimes to bring on certain religious practices that may not be in conformity with the laws of God. Hence they need to be very careful as to how they order their religious and social life. The need and motto of the nation of Israel is to serve the Lord and follow him at all times and at all circumstances. [ Joshua 24: 14,15]. This was basically because in the life of Israel, the religious behavior and practices affected the social life of people also . Hence it is important that religious life, the spiritual values and living should be ordered according to the will of God so that the social life of Israelites is also lived according to the purpose and will of God. Only when this happens will the society be strengthened. It is for this reason that Joshua assembles elders, leader, the judges and officials. These are people who are responsible in formulating laws and leaders who give wisdom and counsel to people and hence it was imperative that the law makers in the land, the people who are given authority should first be aware of the true foundation of a strong society. A society that is strong only when bound by strong moral laws and value , authority of God and affirming kingdom values. This was what Joshua wanted to communicate to every tribe of Israel. I think history is being repeated in this nation. As law makers and other leaders and people in authority are going to review about various laws and cases related to the concept of marriage and family, the Manhattan declaration is another effort to constantly remind the people that even when time, season and times of history changes, certain concepts like the understanding of family and marriage are very important especially in areas like nurturing of children and future generation. Marriage and family as envisaged by creator God, is what is needed to be affirmed, upheld and preserved at a time when new and new definition and understanding of these institutions are being raised up.