Dumping ‘Presbyterian’ for ‘Humankind’

The web site declares, “New name, same mission.”  (And yet, on the mission page of the site it clearly says “the words have changed.”)Presbyterian strikethrough

The letter from the organization’s president says, “As you can see, we have adopted a new name. HumanKind.” He then says, “We believe it’s a name that better reflects our work today serving members of the human family.”

“What’s the old name,” you’re wondering? Presbyterian Homes & Family Services and the Family Alliance.

Established by Presbyterians in 1903 in Lynchburg, Va., the organization is seeking to jettison its Presbyterian affiliation noting that “we are not owned, funded or governed by the church.”  You’ll note that the mission, vision and values have been purged of all faith-related words and Jesus is nowhere to be found. However, they still want Presbyterian churches and Presbyterians to support them financially.

Does the current board of directors honestly fail to see the disconnect in renaming the organization in a way that radically departs from what the Presbyterian Christian founders intended? Do they honestly not see that to describe the organization as “the same human-serving organization that we’ve been for 110 years” is a perversion of the “Christ-serving” impetus of the founders?

They acknowledge that “The Presbyterian Children’s Orphanage opened in response to the needs expressed by leaders in the Presbyterian Church.” And they will honor the “Presbyterian legacy”  by leaving their corporate name the same and continuing to preserve the name “Presbyterian Homes Campus” on one of their properties. But that may be simply because its engraved in stone and set in brick at the entrance and too expensive to replace. It is clear that the word “Presbyterian” bears out no meaning for them institutionally and they do not intend to wear it into the world as ambassadors of the Christian faith. 

The change of name is clearly intended to make the organization more “inclusive.” The president’s letter says, “HumanKind has broader recognition and appeal in our communities and with our many program participants, family members, staff, partners, volunteers, funders and donors.”  Now, I acknowledge that the board of directors has every right to change the name. But let’s not pretend that the Christ-motivated mission of the organization has not also changed.

For the president to say that “while our name is changing, our mission is not changing,” is laughable. The mission of this organization has been drifting from its Christo-centric moorings for many years as the name “Presbyterian” has lost its meaning in the culture.

None of this is to say that the organization does not do great work — they do. They just do it in the name of HumanKind and human kindness, not in the name of Christ. The good they do is genuinely good, but they’ve severed it from the God who is good.

Maybe I should be celebrating that the word “Presbyterian” has been removed from the name of an organization that functions out of a purely naturalistic worldview. However, I grieve that as Presbyterians we’ve “lost” this particular institutional extension of the social witness and social justice mission of the Church. This began as a mission of the church, this began as a Christian witness of compassion and justice, and it has become a purely secular humanitarian relief organization. That grieves me.

The change of name is an honest reflection of who and what the organization has become. If you want to “see” what means just search Google images for “humankind” and see what populates your page. Now, do the same for the word “Presbyterian.” Do you see the difference?


Carmen Fowler LaBerge