T-shirt honours fierce biblical women

February 8, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 3
Aaron Epp | Senior Writer
Arlyn Friesen Epp, director of CommonWord Bookstore and Resource Centre in Winnipeg. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

A new T-shirt celebrates women of the Bible who often get overlooked.

The shirt features 11 phrases, including “Teach like Junia,” “Preach like Mary,” “Lead like Esther” and “Risk like Ruth.” Rianna Isaak-Krauss, co-pastor at Frankfurt Mennonite Church in Germany, created it while pregnant with Noa Jubilee, now five months old.

Rianna Isaak-Krauss.

“I was on Etsy looking for fun clothing for babies, as millennial parents do, and found really terrible Christian T-shirts for girls [with phrases] like, ‘Wait like Hannah’ and ‘Serve like Martha,’” says Isaak-Krauss, 31. “The only images that capitalism has for women [are] doing laundry and waiting around, and I thought that sucked.”

Three other sources provided further inspiration for Isaak-Krauss, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., and was educated at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU)  in Winnipeg, Man. and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind.

A liberation theology book club she belongs to was reading Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to The Women of the Torah and the Throne by Wilda C. Gafney.

“Through these discussions we discovered many incredibly fierce women in the Bible.”

At the same time, Isaak-Krauss remembered one of her professors at AMBS, Rachel Miller Jacobs, encouraging students to use active verbs while leading worship to emphasize that God can and does take action.

Isaak-Krauss also recalled a class she took with theologian Carol Penner at CMU’s Canadian School of Peacebuilding, where Penner introduced her to women in the Bible that she had never heard of. Isaak-Krauss learned that typically in lectionaries, women do not show up as often as men because they are not the main characters in the stories. If a lectionary draws from a longer text, the verses which name women are often cut out.

“It makes sense that we don’t know many of these Bible stories about women,” Isaak-Krauss says. “[But] I want to change that. I believe that stories shape us.”

The T-shirt is already having an impact. Last August, Isaak-Krauss wore one to Freakstock, a Christian festival in Gotha, Germany, organized by members of the Jesus People movement. A woman saw the shirt and approached Isaak-Krauss with tears in her eyes. As a child, she aspired to be a pastor, but that dream was smothered in her young adulthood when an elder in her church told her there were no biblical women in leadership roles. She believed him and became a social worker.

“She told me that she wished that she had some of these role models in her church growing up,” says Isaak-Krauss.

Isaak-Krauss began selling the T-shirt online last year. When Arlyn Friesen Epp came across it on social media, he arranged to sell them at CommonWord Bookstore and Resource Centre in Winnipeg, where he is the director.

“I was drawn to the design, I was drawn to the overt feminist reading of honouring women’s stories of the Bible and [I was drawn to] its bold statements,” Friesen Epp says. “[It’s] very invitational.”

Isaak-Krauss didn’t have any particular hopes when she first created the T-shirt. “I just wanted a T-shirt for myself, to be honest,” she says. But now that they’re available to the public, she hopes people realize there are many radical stories in the Bible that include women—so many, in fact, that she has 11 more phrases that didn’t make it onto the T-shirt.

“Let’s keep telling these stories of badass biblical women,” Isaak-Krauss says. “And let’s keep using strong, active verbs so that we’re not always forming girls to be passive.”

The T-shirt is available for sale at CommonWord.ca.

Arlyn Friesen Epp, director of CommonWord Bookstore and Resource Centre in Winnipeg. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

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I really enjoyed this article and shared it with two pastors I know, one of whom has a young daughter named "Junia."

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