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Humanitarianism, a broad term that generally denotes thinking and action centered in humans and for the benefit of the human species. Like humanism it distinguishes itself on the one hand from the bestial and on the other from the divine. In a strict sense, humanitarian is one who promotes human welfare and social reform without reference to God or Jesus Christ. To examine humanitarianism is to take a closer look at philanthropy, the effort of promoting good will and human welfare by the will and action of humans alone.

Thus seen, humanitarianism is for some Mennonites a pejorative term when applied to relief and service efforts of the church. Other Mennonites regard any act of love as a witness to God. To reject the humanitarian component in the complex matrix of service is not without its pitfalls. All service is of necessity performed by people for people, even when the motivation is to glorify God. To negate the human element in the churches' relief and development work is to deny that "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22) need flesh and blood to make them useful and real. When John says that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," (John 1:14) he is affirming the humanness of Jesus Christ. Recognizing the extent of inhuman behavior in society, the mischief done by ruthless dictators, the senseless battles fought over ideologies, the shameful enslaving and exploitation of the many by the few, one gains a new appreciation for the milk of human kindness. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when He said that what was done "to one of the least of these my brethren, [was done] to Me" (Matthew 25:40).

On the other hand it is well to remember that men and women are not the measure of all things, that there is more to life than easing the lot for others, and that ultimately all our good works are meaningless unless they point to Him who is the source of all life.

Author(s) Peter J Dyck
Date Published 1989

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MLA style

Dyck, Peter J. "Humanitarianism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 13 Aug 2020.

APA style

Dyck, Peter J. (1989). Humanitarianism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 August 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 400. All rights reserved.

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