Editor’s Note: We were contacted by our cousin Cindy because she’s written a book that talks about the Global family from a Christian perspective. The Global Family Reunion is non-denominational, but we welcome different perspectives.
by Cindy M. Wu and Todd M. Johnson
My husband David and I (Cindy) did not grow up knowing our extended families. When both sets of our parents left Taiwan to come study in the United States, they left for good. A few years ago my mother-in-law announced that a cousin from Taiwan would be joining us for the holidays. We were stunned—my husband had not even known this cousin existed. When we met the cousin we did a double take—the young man looked so much like David that he could have been his twin! We were delighted to welcome an unexpected family member to our table that year and celebrated the realization that our awareness of “family” had just expanded.
The word “family” can stir up a range of emotions. Depending on how well you get along with your relatives, family reunions can be a wonderful affair or a dreaded obligation. We both (Cindy and Todd) are thankful for our families and enjoy being with them, but we’ve also been challenged to think about how we get along with our “global families”: the global human family and, because we are Christians, the global Christian family.
We were born into the human race. Counting everyone who has ever lived, our human family numbers more than 80 billion people! Today some 7.3 billion people live on our planet. Diverse in languages and customs, the world’s peoples also adhere to a multitude of religions and philosophies, forming communities or “families” centered around belief and practice.
Christians claim membership in one of these faith families, what we call the global Christian family, and relatives are found in every country of the world. Recent dramatic shifts have impacted the ethnic makeup of the global Christian family: one hundred years ago, the global Christian family was 80% white; today it is 60% non-white. This family includes 2.4 billion people—about a third of the global human family.
Every once in a while our global human family comes together for a specific purpose, whether it’s followers on a religious pilgrimage, athletes competing in the Olympic Games, or political leaders meeting in a global summit. Global gatherings can evoke sentiments of solidarity, but sometimes they only underscore our differences. Disagreements on trade, global warming, nuclear weapons, and a host of other issues have driven wedges between peoples and countries. A. J. Jacobs is hosting his Global Family Reunion on the premise that if we could just see how closely we’re all related, we’d be a little nicer to one another and be able to work together better to solve the world’s really big problems.
This is precisely the case we make to Christians in our book, Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World. Christians have not always been known for cooperating with others. In fact we struggle to even get along with one another! As with any family, there is much that Christians disagree about, and as a result there are now over 45,000 Christian denominations in the world. But we believe there is a strong case for emphasizing commonality, both in the Christian community and in the human community. We believe deep Christian commitment actually promotes unity and concern for all.
What difference does embracing our identity as members of both the global human family and the global Christian family make? What does it look like to come together and work for the common good? Answering these questions requires a broad approach to identity—one that emphasizes universality and commonality.
Emphasizing commonality facilitates cooperation capable of changing the world. 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.” Thus we should accept certain duties related to the whole of humankind, because global issues impact us all.
In our book, we remind Christians that they belong to (at least) two families, the human family and the Christian family. Christians cannot divorce themselves from either of these families. If they identify as global citizens, they will think differently about their role in the world. They will recognize difference but be quicker to look for commonality. They will also be challenged in their hospitality towards others. Such insight often brings unexpected solidarity.
This is what being part of a global family is like—discovering that on this planet are people with whom you share so many traits, you truly belong to the same family. Knowing this makes it easier to come together and easier to get along.
The largest family reunion in history, as recorded in the Guinness World Book of Records, is 4,514 members of the Porteau-Boileve family, who reunited in France on August 12, 2012. A.J. seeks to well surpass that record. On his guest list: all 7 billion members of the global human family. As global citizens we heartily endorse the Global Family Reunion because of its goal to nudge us toward greater cooperation in working for the common good. Come to the reunion and meet your unknown cousins. What a celebration it will be!
Todd M. Johnson is Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Cindy M. Wu (M.A., Gordon-Conwell) is a freelance writer. Their book, Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World, releases February 17, 2015, on Amazon.com.