A minister sues his congregation
In 1904, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered a defamation suit brought by the Rev. Charles L. Janzow, pastor of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, against 18 members of his congregation. As an illustration of Janzow’s alleged dishonesty, defendants offered the case of Erich E.A. Mueller, who testified that Janzow had first encouraged him to write a socialist pamphlet, then had denounced his writings before the congregation. Janzow was seeking $45,000 — about $1.2 million in 2015 dollars. The Henry F. Mueller mentioned in the story does not appear to be related to Erich.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Page One, September 28, 1904:
‘Lame mules bear load’ says letter which began Bethlehem Church strife
Henry F. Mueller, wealthy president of Bethlehem Lutheran Congregation, unable to resume his testimony in Pastor Janzow’s suit
Defendants admit they impugned his honesty
Socialistic writings of Erich Mueller become an important factor in strife between minister and his avowed opponents
It was announced Wednesday upon the resumption of deposition-taking in the suit of Rev. Charles L. Janzow, pastor of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, against 18 members of his congregation for $45,000 damages that Henry F. Mueller, the aged capitalist who was expected to occupy the witness stand, was ill at his home, 3826 North Eleventh St., and was physically unable to be present.
Author of socialistic pamphlet
brought out in Janzow suit
Among the interesting side-lights developed in the suit for $45,000 damages brought by Rev. Charles L. Janzow, pastor of the Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, alleging that 18 members of his congregation defamed him, is the case of Erich Mueller of 1408 Perry St., publisher of a pamphlet setting forth his views on socialism. One of the counts upon which the defendants accuse Pastor Janzow of “dishonesty” is the pastor’s admitted connection with the translation and editing of the pamphlet’s contents. Mueller alleges the pastor “first assisted and then condemned,” Janzow having denounced the writings in public. Mueller terms himself a Christian socialist. He was at one time the proprietor of a small shop, in which he earned his living as a polisher of pecans. A trust developed a machine which did away with hand work and Mueller now finds himself an employee in the same business that he once followed as proprietor. Shortly after the change he began his socialistic writings.
Mr. Mueller, who is reputed to be a retired millionaire, is president of Bethlehem congregation and is looked upon as the most important witness in the suit, in which he is the first named among the defendants. He is now in his 87th year. It is feared the trying ordeal of Tuesday’s examination, when Mr. Mueller occupied the stand for several hours, overtaxed his endurance. He became visibly excited when he reiterated his statement that he believed Pastor Janzow was dishonest in several church matters, and had to be excused from the stand temporarily. Mr. Mueller was the first of the four witnesses thus far heard who gave testimony without evasion.
Mueller’s absence Is a disappointment
His absence disappointed a large number of persons who gathered in room 509 Railway Exchange building, Fourth and Chestnut streets, by the open taking of depositions. In the absence of Mr. Mueller, August Rodefeld, about whose release from Bethlehem church revolves a portion of the existing controversy, was recalled to the stand.
“Is it not true,” he was asked, “that Henry F. Mueller was put forward as the leader of your faction, and in addressing the congregation at various times spoke for all the defendants in this suit?”
“No, it is not true.”
“Is it not true that owing to Mr. Mueller’s age, wealth and prominence in the congregation, you had him make charges against Pastor Janzow with the hope that he could browbeat the congregation and force them to oust Janzow?”
“No, it is not true. I was very much surprised when Mr. Mueller arose in church and called for an investigation of the lack of peace.”
Concerted action denied by witnesses
Considerable time was then consumed in delving into the origin of the numerous petitions, calling for special church meetings, which Pastor Janzow charges formed a portion of the conspiracy to oust him. The witness was positive in his statements that there had been no concerted action on the part of the defendants to bring about the demands for a special church meeting. Each petition, he stated, sprang from a different source.
Referring to the Erich Mueller writings Attorney Smith asked: “What did Erich Mueller say to you regarding his authorship of socialistic writings?”
“He said that if he had not been encouraged by Pastor Janzow he would never have written his views.”
“How long ago was he encouraged?”
“About six years ago.”
“How long before you brought this before the congregation?”
“About two years.”
“Is it not true that you brought this charge against Pastor Janzow — that is, that Pastor Janzow had helped Erich Mueller — to prove that Pastor Janzow was dishonest?”
“Yes, that is true.”
Suppressed by Board of Elders
“What happened when some of these writings were read before the congregation?”
“There was a great deal of excitement.”
“Who raised the excitement?”
“What were the writings about?”
“About a great many things. One of them was a plan to raise more money for the church.”
“Is it not true that the letter was insulting to Henry F. Mueller and other wealthy men in the congregation, who were contributing to the church?”
“I don’t know that it was.”
“Was it suppressed for two years by the board of elders?”
“Did it not propose that Mueller and other wealthy men should pay more money to the church and that it was unchristian for them to take interest on money they loaned to church members?”
“I don’t know about that. But I do know that the letter said ‘the lame mules in the congregation pull good and get the whip, but the buggy horse goes on in any way.’”
“This was one of the papers you charged the Pastor Janzow with having assisted Mueller in preparing?”
With Rodefeld still on the stand, the sitting adjourned at 1 p.m. for the day. The taking of depositions will be resumed Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
Submitted by Lois Hall, Erich’s great-great-grandaughter, who found and transcribed the Post-Dispatch story.