Megadeth star David Ellefson takes thrash metal — and seminary — on tour

CLAYTON, Mo. (RNS) David Ellefson was an honest-to-God founding member of the legendary thrash metal band Megadeth. And his studies at a Lutheran seminary here illustrate why distance-learning programs are increasingly popular as seminarians don't have to uproot their lives to attend. For Ellefson, his new quest for the ministry is also about a peculiar foray through the apparent contradictions of rock and religion.

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Obama holds firm on contraception coverage

(RNS) The Obama administration said Friday that it will not broaden the religious exemption in new rules that require employers to provide contraception coverage to employees, a move that angered religious groups and opened a high stakes election-year fight. Instead, the White House will give faith groups a one-year extension to find a way to comply with the mandate without compromising their beliefs. By David Gibson. 800.

Catholics warn Gingrich, Santorum on race baiting

(RNS) More than 40 Catholic leaders and theologians have issued an open letter to Catholic candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum warning them “to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.” By David Gibson. 350, with optional trim to 250.

Big-city mayors come out for same-sex marriage

A bipartisan coalition of 80 U.S. mayors has launched a “Freedom to Marry” campaign to build public support for giving same-sex couples the right to legal marriage under U.S. and state laws.

Pope gives final approval to controversial lay group

Pope Benedict XVI gave his official approval to the Neocatechumenal Way to launch operations in all dioceses despite frayed relations with some bishops, as long as they allow full participation in their services. By Alessandro Speciale.

Rabbis step in as matchmakers on new Jewish dating sites

(RNS) Before you meet your match, you've got to meet your matchmaker. That's the new strategy of a group of rabbis who are launching a different kind of Jewish dating website called the “J sites” — JMontreal, JMiami, JBoston and, coming soon, JNew York, JLondon, JBerlin and JHong Kong. Like most dating sites, users pay a fee and compose a profile. But not so typically, they don't get to browse a database full of potential mates and their glamour shots. That's the job of the matchmaker — a man or woman who takes you out for coffee, probes your heart, and then works with the J software to generate a list of potential soul mates.

Pope warns U.S. bishops of ‘radical secularism’

(RNS) “Radical secularism” is gaining ground in American society and poses a “grave threat” to the Catholic Church's freedom of expression in the public square, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of U.S. bishops on Thursday (Jan. 19). The delegation of bishops from the mid-Atlantic region, led by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is in Rome for a series of regular “ad limina” visit that occur once every five years. Benedict said bishops must help Catholic politicians understand that it is “their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith,” especially regarding the respect for human life. Catholics must be on guard to confront a “reductive secularism,” Benedict said, which tries to “delegitimize the church's participation in public debate.”

Last of 3 men sentenced in church arson case

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) The last of three white men convicted of torching a black church on the night of President Obama’s election was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison on Wednesday (Jan. 18), bringing the highly publicized case to a close. Thomas Gleason, 24, of Springfield, was also ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution and serve three years of supervised release after finishing his sentence. The restitution amount is to be shared by the three defendants.

Thursday Godbytes: Megadeth Goes to Seminary; Perry Drops Out; Is “Evangelical” the New

The bass player from heavy-metal band Megadeth (I’m assuming the names “Superdeath,” Death,” and “Severely Injured” were already taken) is going to a Lutheran Seminary. Because, you know, Luther ROCKED. Texas Governor and evangelical Christian Rick Perry is dropping out of the race for president today. This puts some evangelicals in a pickle (although, admittedly, the Evangelical gathering in Texas last week endorsed Rick Santorum, not Perry), and Terry Moran put it this way (via the Washington Post): Relatedly, blogger Tony Jones asks: Is “Evangelical” the New “Jewish”? And the Coin of the Year goes to…Israel and their depiction of Jonah and the Whale!

ThursdayâÂ?Â?s Religion Roundup: Perry out, Religious Right dead—or alive? Candidates’ wives

Rick Perry, once the Great Evangelical Hope, is dropping out. Was he ever in it? Perry reportedly will throw his support – and both his supporters – behind Newt Gingrich. That should ice it. Tough day all around for Mitt Romney: Turns out Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa caucuses, so he can claim he is doing as well as Mitt – until Saturday, at least.