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Lutheran church architecture varies greatly, generally reflecting the differences in styles of worship. Especially in Europe, the architecture of mainstream Lutheran churches is similar to that of Roman Catholic churches, while that of the smaller Lutheran denominations tend to be more similar to that of Protestant churches.

Some Lutheran denominations are governed by an episcopate (i.e., bishops), and organized into dioceses and parishes, much like the governing structure of the Roman Catholic Church, though the Lutheran tradition is democratic and congregationally focused rather than hierarchical and centralized. The governing structure of other denominations are congregationally based, and includes districts and synods, councils and conferences, presided over by elders and presidents.

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Lutheranism and Homosexuality

Lutheran denominations vary widely in their acceptance of homosexuals as full participants in church life. Some denominations permit celibate homosexuals to be ordained to the ministry, while others do not. Some ordain sexually active homosexuals, at least those in monogamous, committed relationships, while others do not.

Some Lutheran churches perform blessings for same-sex couples and some perform marriages for same-sex couples, while others do not recognize same-sex couples at all.

European Lutheran denominations tend to be liberal in policies on church membership, on the participation of gay men and lesbians in church life, and on recognizing same-sex relationships. While most of these churches do not regard homosexual orientation as sinful in and of itself, many are vague as to whether homosexual acts are sinful, often simply acknowledging a range of views on the subject.

The largest Lutheran denomination, the Evangelical Church in Germany, issued a position paper in 1996, "Living in Tension," that called for the full acceptance of homosexuals in all areas of church life and for the blessing of same-sex partnerships. However, it also recommended that marriage be reserved for heterosexual couples.

The Scandinavian churches, in the face of the populace's widespread skepticism about religion and religious beliefs, see themselves as "folk churches." From this perspective, dogma is less important than inclusiveness on the basis of ancestry and nationality. Hence, they make no distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation in membership.

There have, however, been controversies within Scandinavian churches as to whether sexually active gay men and lesbians are eligible for ordination to the clergy and as to whether same-sex partnerships may be blessed or same-sex couples may be married in the church.

In many of these churches, considerable discretion is given to individual bishops and clergy as to whether to ordain non-celibate gay men and lesbians and whether to perform same-sex marriages and blessings of same-sex couples. This "local option" solution may reflect a division between rural and urban attitudes toward homosexuality, with clergy and congregations in rural areas less likely to be as fully accepting of gay men and lesbians as those in urban areas.

Sexually active gay men and lesbians serve as clergy in the Evangelical Church of Germany, the Church of Denmark, the Church of Norway, and the Church of Sweden.

In 2008, Horst Gorski, a respected theologian from Hamburg and the founder of a center for gay and lesbian Lutheran pastors, was one of two finalists for the position of bishop in the Evangelical Church of Germany. Conservatives warned that the election of an openly gay bishop would divide the German church, and he was not elected.

In 2009, however, Eva Brunne, a lesbian who is the partner of another priest, Gunilla Linden, was elected Bishop of Stockholm in the Church of Sweden. Tellingly, the election of Bishop Brunne sparked none of the bitter controversy that attended the election of Bishop V. Gene Robinson in the Episcopal Church of the United States.

North American Lutherans

There is no controversy about homosexuality and homosexuals in the second largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS, often referred to by its detractors as the "Misery Synod" because of its crabbed and dogmatic approach to moral issues). It is among the most religious organizations in the United States.

Founded in 1847, the LCMS counts more than 2,000,000 members. It practices closed communion, which means that only baptized and confirmed members of the church may receive Holy Communion. It does not ordain women; nor does it knowingly ordain homosexuals, whether celibate or sexually active.

The LCMS has declared that homosexuality is "intrinsically sinful" and that homosexuals stand "under the condemnation of God's Word." It refuses membership to those who persist in homosexual acts, and sponsors Keys Ministries, a secretive organization devoted to helping individuals overcome homosexual desire, perhaps through reparative therapy.

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