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Broad church

For the ITV detective series, see Broadchurch.

Broad church is a term referring to latitudinarian churchmanship in the Church of England in particular and Anglicanism in general. The term is often used to refer to secular political organisations, meaning that they encompass a broad range of opinion.


After the terms high church and low church came to distinguish the tendency toward ritualism and Anglo-Catholicism on the one hand and evangelicalism on the other, those Anglicans tolerant of multiple forms of conformity to ecclesiastical authority came to be referred to as "broad". The expression apparently originated with A. H. Clough and was current in the later part of the 19th century for Anglicans who objected to positive definitions in theology and sought to interpret Anglican formularies in a broad and liberal sense.[1] Characteristic members of this group were the contributors to Essays and Reviews, 1860, and A. P. Stanley.[2] As the name implies, parishes associated with this variety of churchmanship will mix high and low forms, reflective of the often eclectic liturgical and doctrinal preferences of clergy and laity. The emphasis is on allowing individual parishioners' choice.

Broad church as an expression is now increasingly replaced by references in the Church of England to liberalism. For example, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in his "text of reflection" The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today, released in 2006,[3] described the three "components in our heritage" as "strict evangelical Protestantism", "Roman Catholicism" and "religious liberalism", accepting that "each of these has a place in the church’s life". These would broadly correspond to the low church, high church and broad church parties in the Church of England. It has been suggested that "broad" tended to be used to describe those of middle of the road ceremonial preferences who leaned towards liberal Protestantism; whilst "central" described those who were theologically conservative, but took middle way in ritual. Broad churchmen might best be described as those who are generally liberal in theology, often culturally conservative, but also supportive of a broad, that is, comprehensive Anglican Church including Evangelical Anglican, "Middle of the road" or "vanilla Anglicans" or "central churchmen", liberal or "progressive" Anglicans, moderate high churchmen, and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans (though not fundamentalist on the one extreme nor papalists on the other). It is not possible to draw sharp lines between some of these traditions.

In the Episcopal Church in the United States, the term "broad church" has a slightly different connotation, referring to those whose ceremonial practice is neither high nor low church. Theologically, they may be either conservative - equating to Central Churchmanship in the Church of England - or liberal, which would identify them with the broad church or liberal strand within the Church of England.

More generally, the term can also describe the membership of other organisations. When James Callaghan, the Labour Party Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said of his party that "ours is a broad church", he meant that it embraced different strands of labour and socialist tradition.[citation needed]

See also


  1. Cross, F. L. (1957); p. 199
  2. Cross, F. L. (1957); p. 199
  3. Williams, Rowan (27 June 2006). "The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today: A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion". Dr. Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 

Further reading

  • Cornish, F. W. (1910) The English Church in the Nineteenth Century. 2 vols. London: Macmillan (particularly relevant are: vol. 1. pp. 186-96, 299-316; vol. 2, pp. 201-44)
  • Cross, F. L. (ed.) (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford U. P.; Broad Church, p. 199.
  • Jones, Tod E. (2003) The Broad Church: Biography of a Movement Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739106112