In an article published by the International Review of the Red Cross (2016, 897/898), Kathryn Kraft, University of East London, looks into “Faith and Impartiality in Humanitarian Response: Lessons from Lebanese Evangelical Churches Providing Food Aid”.
This case study of a network of evangelical churches in Lebanon, based on data, collected during an evaluation in 2014, presents a critique of common understandings about the humanitarian principle of impartiality, and questions assumptions about the compatibility between religious fervour and humanitarian values. Churches attempting to respect impartiality while implementing a food aid project for Syrian refugees have sought to mitigate potential problems through relationship-building and promotion of human dignity in order to ensure needs-responsiveness. Though many Lebanese Evangelical Christians do continue to engage in evangelistic activity, they benefit from strong community ties and demonstrate a high level of sensitivity to their beneficiaries’ urgent needs as well as their sense of dignity.
She concludes that while local grass-roots faith-based entities agree with the humanitarian principles, they interpret them in markedly different ways than most secular actors, particularly those headquartered in other parts of the world than where a humanitarian emergency may be taking place. Improved dialogue between these local faith-based organizations and other, larger humanitarian agencies is invaluable. Such dialogue can help strengthen the quality of care given by all aid providers, by improving all parties’ understanding of the humanitarian principles and how they can best be applied, taking into consideration the historical lessons learned that underpin the humanitarian principles as well as the perspectives of local community members.