WM minister, Christian Socialist and pacifist, born in London ('within the sound of Bow bells') on 20 July 1853. In his early years he came under the influence of Radnor Street School and Wesley's Chapel. After experience in the world of commerce, which proved formative, he trained for the ministry at Didsbury College, where W.B. Pope was a particular influence on him. He became one of the leading figures in the Forward Movement and under the pseudonym 'Labour Lore' contributed regular articles on labour issues to H.P. Hughes' Methodist Times. But he had reservations about the narrow Wesleyan interpretation of morality as focused on the issues of temperance, sexual purity and Sabbath observance. As early as 1889 he mastered Marx's Das Kapital, appreciating both its strengths and weaknesses. His first book Industrial Daydreams (1896) was a pioneering book in Methodist and wider nonconformist circles. It dealt with the connection between economics and ethics and controversially proclaimed that 'a purified Socialism is simply an industrially applied Christianity'. But being in advance of its time, it had limited sales.
During the Anglo-Boer War he successfully opposed a dinner invitation to Joseph Chamberlain at Wesley's Chapel. He founded the short-lived Methodist Weekly, the Wesleyan Methodist Union for Social Service (1905) and the Wesleyan Methodist Peace Fellowship (1916) and played a part in setting up what became the WM Temperanceand Social Welfare Department in 1919. He declined an appointment as a District Chairman, but in 1908 was elected to the Legal Hundred. His books included The Ideal of the Material Life (1908) and influenced the prominent political figure Philip Snowden towards Socialism. In 1920 he gave the Fernley Lecture on Christian Responsibility for the Social Order (1922), which has been described as 'the fruit of his mature judgment'. In 1926 he was involved in establishing the Beckly Lecture. He chaired the International and Industrial sub-committee of the WM Temperance and Social Welfare Committee, 1922-32, attended COPEC in 1924 and served on the resulting Christian Social Council.
On his retirement in 1921 he received a standing vote of the Conference for 'the unique services he has rendered in applying Christianity to social and industrial questions'; and his Conference obituary proclaimed him 'a major prophet within our church'. But he has also been described as 'the rejected prophet'. He died in Guildford on 5 September 1946.
His second wife Jessie was the daughter of the architect Edward Potts.
'Today we are familiar with the Methodist minister of left-wing political convictions, whose social concern and involvement is based upon ecumenical rather than specifically Methodist theology… There are more of them now than ever before, and they have made causes such as Socialism and Pacifism respectable and even commonplace within their Church. Whether they realise it or not, they follow in the footsteps of S.E. Keeble, the pioneer of them all. He has been one of the seminal influences in 20th century Methodism.
'It was Keeble's personality as well as his teaching that helped him to build up a band of disciples and admirers. He was a transparently good man, free from self-seeking and with a human warmth and friendliness that disarmed his critics and enthused his disciples. Ministers and laymen alike were honoured to be his friends. He had the boundless optimism of the best kind of late Victorian theological Liberal. He was a delightful companion, with a well-informed love of nature, poetry and art. He was a devout man, who meditated on the great Christian mystics and who loved the hymns of Charles Wesley. He neglected nothing in the Christian faith. Rather, he united in himself the personal and social aspects of the Gospel in a marvellous unity. There lies his perennial inspiration to all later generations of the people called Methodists.'
Michael S. Edwards, S.E. Keeble, the rejected prophet (Broxton, 1977) pp. 60-1
Entry written by: MSE
Comment on this entry