The Christian life is lived out both locally and globally. Obviously, Christians live in a particular city within a particular country, speak a particular language, and belong to a particular denomination or network (or none at all). But, at the same time, all Christians are tied together by a common faith, by a common commitment to one Lord and Savior. This dual identity is not a modern effect of globalization. Sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine wrote in his City of God (Book 19, Chapter 17), “This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthy peace.” We hope to realize the beauty of both the local and the universal in a truly global Christian family. Nonetheless, we need commitment to a global ethic, one that engages any evil—anywhere—befalling humankind because of the foundational belief that every human being is worth defending. Such action demands both personal responsibility and commitment.
British Quaker Nigel Dower (An Introduction to Global Citizenship) makes a compelling case for Christians to embrace global citizenship: First, we accept our duty towards all humankind, living in the world we all share. This includes an active concern about global issues such as racial injustice and ecological destruction. Second, we show consideration towards people as members of the human family. This implies a vested interest in endeavors of others around the world, as one would support an aunt running a local homeless shelter. Third, we share hope for a better life. This demands solidarity with all human beings, working to improve the world for the sake of the common good.
What do Christians who are global citizens do? According to Dower, the active global citizen assumes responsibility, asserts universal rights, and maintains concern toward all human beings. Typically, active global citizens share the moral and ethical perspective that all human beings inherently have certain fundamental rights. This perspective not only warrants the critique of government and business activities, but it also obliges a personal commitment to specific social issues. It is this active stance that defines the core of the global citizen. Baptist pastor and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” It is in interconnectedness that Christians find common global responsibility. In other words, Christians cannot insulate ourselves from global problems, hiding behind the guise of protecting our self-interest. By nature, global problems implicate people (or events and processes) from all over the world. Problems of this scope require a coordinated response from citizens of every nation. For instance, poverty affects the poor directly and the rich indirectly; however, it is an evil best eradicated when the rich and poor work together.
A strong global Christian identity coheres with a strong sense of a global human identity. As Christians around the world come into greater contact, we reflect on our shared identity, in light of our differences (ethnicity, language, denomination) and our similarities (practice, core theology, creeds). It is when we adopt a common global identity that we begin to tear down cultural divisions and work toward reconciliation and restorative justice. In this way, global citizenship is a Christian practice and it is the only way to effectively engage global issues.
Todd M. Johnson, Ph.D., is the Eva B. and Paul E. Tom Distinguished Professor of Mission and Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
For Professor Johnson's full treatment of this topic:
Todd M. Johnson and Cindy M. Wu, Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World (Baker Academic, 2015).