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Global Citizenship: The Whole World is My Country

DR. TODD M. JOHNSON

PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY AND MISSION


Should Christians consider themselves global citizens? The concept of global citizenship has enlightened philosophers since the days of ancient Greece, but it has also inspired no shortage of reflections from Christian thinkers, such as Augustine.

This literature, expertly gathered by British Quaker Nigel Dower in An Introduction to Global Citizenship, makes a compelling case for Christians to embrace a global identity. Dower writes about three components of global citizenship: First, an acceptance of duty towards all humankind, living in the world we all share. This duty includes an active concern about global issues such as racial injustice and ecological destruction. Second, a 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, a shared hope for a better life. This demands solidarity with all human beings, working to improve the world for the sake of the common good.

According to the ancient Greek Stoics, each of us dwells in two communities: the local community of our birth and the universal community of human reason and aspiration. “I am not born for any one corner of the universe,” Seneca (De Otio) wrote, “This whole world is my country.” The Stoics were not proposing to abolish local forms of government but, according to Law professor Martha Nussbaum, they proposed that “that we give our first allegiance to no mere form of government, no temporal power, but to the moral community made up by the humanity of all human beings” (For Love of Country, p. 7). This argument has strong relevance in the twenty-first century—a time when solving problems at the local level increasingly involves people in other countries.

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.

What do 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. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. “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 we find common global responsibility.

As activists, global citizens are both realistic and optimistic about what can be done to “repair” the world. Realizing that they cannot act alone, they seek a global community of like-minded people. In addition, while global citizens highlight the need for certain institutions to be reformed and improved, they believe it is possible to meet the basic needs of all people. Theological opinions on the human condition may vary, but the fundamental commitment among Christians to love and serve people is undeniable. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, wrote, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation.”

However, this perspective does not make the global citizen less involved in local initiatives. Each of us maintains both a global and a local persona, or as Danish scientist Piet Hein explains, “We are global citizens with tribal souls.” Far from precluding local involvement, global action is lived out through local activism.

In other words, we 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.

With this perspective in mind, it is important to address common shortcomings in addressing global realities. First, increased knowledge of problems is not enough in itself to make people act. People know about many problems that they do nothing about. Second, despite greater capacity and reach for long-distance impact, most actions only affect a small number of people (usually nearby). 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.

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.