We propose a more nuanced examination of the powerful forces that play a role in shaping the view shared by many international humanitarians that religions have a predominantly negative influence. First, we examine the role of secularist underpinnings of humanitarian discourse in shaping secular-religious dynamics in the humanitarian sphere, and the intersection of this with other forces of power. We argue that analyses of secular-religious dynamics are essential to understanding the roles of and attitudes towards faith actors in humanitarian norms compliance as well as the actions and reactions of faith and humanitarian actors. Theoretically, we ground the article in an analysis of secular perspectives towards impartiality and neutrality, the observation of which is meant to secure humanitarian space. Interrogating secular perspectives on humanitarian action helps demonstrate how impartiality and neutrality can be used as reasons to avoid engagement with faith actors. A secular approach to humanitarian action tolerates religion with boundary-creation around what is permitted from faith actors, applying a reductive ‘good’/‘bad’ binary. We then examine the experiences of local faith actors (LFAs) in South Sudan in interaction with international humanitarians with respect to humanitarian principles. These examples demonstrate how LFAs comply with humanitarian principles and view this as part and parcel of their commitment to the values of their faith tradition. They also show how LFAs create space for humanitarian norms compliance of other actors through their peacebuilding work and have been relied upon to access parts of the country that are inaccessible to international humanitarians due to safety concerns.