In Memoriam: E. William Muehl, YDS professor of homiletics for four decades
Ernest William Muehl, Stephen Merrell Clement Professor Emeritus of Christian Methods, died on May 8, 2014 in Tucson, AZ.
Muehl was a long-time professor of homiletics at YDS. He began his career as an attorney, graduating from the University of Michigan’s law school where he received an award for trial argument. He came to Yale Divinity School in 1944 as an instructor in public speaking, and a year later he was appointed assistant professor. In 1956 Yale awarded him an honorary M.A. degree.
He maintained his law credentials and was involved in a number of political and legal organizations. He was at one time president of the New Haven Cooperative Society, state chairman and national board member of Americans for Democratic Action, and on the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration. Locally, he served on the New Haven board of alders from 1963-1969.
Muehl’s scholarship—and his public life—centered around the relationship between faith and social responsibility. His book titles are revealing, Mixing Religion and Politics: The Urgency and the Way, Politics for Christians, Politics in Action: How to Make Change Happen, Preach What You Practice, The Road to Persuasion, and The Specter of Economic Man.
Professor Emeritus Harry B. Adams, a long time colleague who co-taught homiletics courses with Muehl said, “Without formal theological training, he was an impressive lay theologian. He brought a unique perspective on current affairs and unusual insight into many of the human conditions that we all deal with.”
Many students remember his sharp wit. In his well-known title, All the Damned Angels (1972), Muehl wrote:
The rich pageant of life is often fouled up by our rigid moralism and the cross is hidden beneath the flimsy fabric of our simple piety. With the best intentions we do the worst thing, and then perform miracles of love almost by accident. Our flesh drives and afflicts us from birth to death. But we have the gall to affirm that it once sheltered the Eternal. There are men wise and good enough to walk with God and see visions of Heaven. I have had to be content with damned angels and the facts of life.
Upon his retirement in 1989, YDS honored Muehl by establishing the Clement-Muehl Professorship of Homiletics, a position now held by professor Leonora Tubbs Tisdale.
Each year, Berkeley Divinity School awards a preaching prize, established by the Berkeley Divinity School Graduate Society in 1989, to honor Muehl upon his retirement. The prize is awarded to the most eloquent preacher among the graduating seniors.
Colleagues for more than 40 years, Adams said Muehl’s greatest legacy is in the preaching of his students.
Muehl was buried in a private ceremony at Randolph Cemetery in Randolph, New Hampshire.