Gaza airstrikes * Papal allegiance * Transgender first: Friday's Roundup

RNS-POPES-WORLD-CUPfeatureWelcome to the Friday Roundup with a heavy dose of news from abroad:

This is the fourth day of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. Nearly 100 Palestinians have died and rocket fire attacks from the Palestinian coastal enclave continue to rain on Israeli cities.

Steven Erlanger at The New York Times writes about how right-wing Israelis, and particularly the religious extremists among them, are becoming more brazen. The six suspects picked up in the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth are reportedly ultra-Orthodox yeshiva dropouts.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Jews and Muslims are moving ahead with interfaith iftar meals despite the air assaults. It’s Ramadan, after all, a time when Muslims traditionally gather for fellowship and food, our own Lauren Markoe writes.

On Sunday, Germany and Argentina will play the final match in the World Cup and religion reporters everywhere (but probably no one else) have framed it as a battle between two popes, Francis the Argentine and Benedict the German. Check out our fabulous graphic.

In Brazil, some 200 people from Ghana have requested asylum after entering the country on tourist visas to watch the World Cup.The Ghanaians say they are Muslims fleeing inter-religious conflicts in their home country. The Brazilians aren’t buying it.

A transgender first: A transgender Baptist who pastored a church in Central Texas as a man has returned to the pulpit as Allyson Robinson, the temporary pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. She may be the first transgender pastor in American Baptist life. The church is not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which last month passed a resolution opposing “all efforts by any governing official or body to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.”

He’s baaack. After losing his Missouri Senate bid following his infamous line about rape and pregnancy, Todd Akin has a new book out in which he defends his “legitimate rape” comments. The book is called “Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Freedom.”

Cosmopolitan magazine has a list of 19 things not to say to a young Christian (presumably, if you’re dating one).

Officials in Salem, Mass. said they will end a contract allowing Gordon College to use the city-owned Old Town Hall because of the Christian school’s opposition to expected federal hiring protection for gays and lesbians.

More than 7,000 people signed an online petition urging Whole Foods to stop carrying products from Eden Foods, one of the 82 companies trying to opt out of covering contraception in health insurance following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. Eden Foods is owned by Catholics who reject all birth control.

The Holy Trinity:  A conservative Christian blogger is facing backlash online for tweeting out a picture of herself holding a Bible, a machine gun, and the American flag. Holly Fisher posed with the same type of firearm that was used by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, saying it represents “America’s founding principles.”

In the latest Gallup poll, 72 percent of U.S. Muslims approved of the job President Obama was doing during the first six months of 2014, higher than any other U.S. religious group Gallup tracks. Mormons were least approving, at 18 percent.

A different kind of tour: Having forsaken the ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith in which she was raised, Frieda Vizel now offers outsiders an insider’s view of an insular Brooklyn community, Hasidic Williamsburg.

Also in Brooklyn: the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has amassed one of the largest collections of rare Jewish manuscripts and books anywhere. Some, on the theme of Jewish publishing, are now on display in Crown Heights.

A Torah-writing robot developed by the German artists' group robotlab was presented for the first time Thursday at Berlin's Jewish Museum. While it takes the machine about three months to complete a scroll, a rabbi or a sofer — a Jewish scribe — needs nearly a year. Too bad: the robot's Torah can't be used for synagogue services.

Breaking a confessional seal: The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has issued a statement decrying a decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court that could compel a local priest to testify in court about confessions he might have received. The confessions relate to possible sexual abuse.

New appointment: The Vatican has appointed the archbishop of Berlin, seen by German media as part of a "new generation" of less dogmatic clergy, to take over the Cologne archdiocese, the largest and richest in Germany.

Two good reads: Philip Jenkins in a thoughtful must-read in The Daily Beast says the Caliphate idea carries within it its own destruction.

“…Competition for the office will be intense, and violent. We can expect multiple rival Caliphs who will denounce and excommunicate each other, while factions will fight each other for the prized office. Expect many assassinations and internal coups.”

And finally, Nicholas Kristof writes about Muslim persecution of Christians. He said he hesitated to write the column:

“I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia. Yet religious freedom is one of the most basic of human rights, and one in peril in much of the world.”

We can’t guarantee much, but we’re pretty sure we’ll keep you updated about religion freedom in this country and abroad. Check the blue box to make sure you don’t miss out. Happy weekend.