The crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer came to light while I was in high school, and I had a morbid curiosity in who he was and what he did. I recall many of the articles and interviews, and also remember hearing about his death in 1994. What I never heard about as a teenager, however, was his conversion to the true faith. It was not until I was involved in full-time ministry about a decade later that I learned that Jeffrey Dahmer obeyed the gospel.
The convicted killer had received correspondence courses from Christians in Oklahoma and Virginia, and after completing the courses, he determined that he needed the blood of Christ to cover his sins. He indicated his desire for baptism. Shortly thereafter, a minister in Wisconsin named Roy Ratcliff was dispatched to see to Mr. Dahmer’s spiritual needs. After discussing the issue with him and determining that he understood the purpose of baptism, and that he was truly remorseful and repentant, brother Ratcliff agreed to baptize Jeffrey Dahmer. He was a man the world saw as a monster, but brother Ratcliff saw him as a lost soul in need of God’s grace.
In the epilogue of his book, Dark Journey, Deep Faith, brother Ratcliff writes, “The greatest thing I learned from Jeff is that he was a person with needs, just like the rest of us. He was just as disturbed about his crimes as everyone else. He had fears and concerns and dreams and hopes as we all do. He was a person, not a monster. He needed God, and when he found God, his life was enriched and blessed.”
I was impressed with brother Ratcliff’s book and the tender way that he dealt with the question posed on the book’s front cover, “Can God forgive even Jeffrey Dahmer?” He met with brother Dahmer weekly for seven months, studying various topics and Bible verses, and sharing stories about their lives. There was no doubt in brother Ratcliff’s mind of brother Dahmer’s sincerity, nor of God’s ability and desire to forgive his sins.
Brother Dahmer expressed some concern about his ability to take the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, as well as the fact that the chapel services offered at the prison included instrumental music. He said, “Well, I just want to do everything right. I’ve lived my life in the wrong ways long enough. I just want to do what is right as far as God is concerned.” This shows a mature attitude toward God’s Word and the need for obedience to His commands.
From some of the statements brother Ratcliff makes concerning these matters, I imagine he and I have some differing views on the authority of the Scriptures and the prohibitive nature of the Word’s silence on the matter of instrumental music. He addresses the danger of legalism—and I agree that there is a danger, but I do not agree with his particular definition of legalism. That issue aside, however, I get the sense that brother Dahmer understood what Jesus did for him on the cross, and the necessity and purpose of baptism as a response to that. I rejoice that brother Ratcliff was able to see to that need, and made a commitment to study with brother Dahmer on a weekly basis until his death.
Dark Journey, Deep Grace is partly about Jeffrey Dahmer. It is partly about Roy Ratcliff. But more than either of them, it is about the immeasurable grace of God.