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Saving a Serial Killer

Share This article Most people know of Jeffrey Dahmer, a notorious serial killer, pedophile, and cannibal. When word of his crimes spread through our nation after he was arrested in 1991 no one could believe the horrendous acts that he had committed.

When it was reported that Jeffrey had become a born-again Christian and been baptized, it was equally hard for some people to believe.

Could God really forgive someone like him? Wisconsin pastor Roy Ratcliff says yes.

Roy is the pastor who baptized Jeffrey and met with him once a week until Jeffrey was murdered in prison. During those visits Roy came to know Jeffrey very well and says the prisoner was truly a changed man after his conversion. Roy has written a book, Dark Journey, Deep Grace, about Jeffrey’s journey of faith.

After he became a Christian, not everyone was convinced that the prisoner’s faith was sincere. Jeffrey’s conversion even angered some people. One member of Roy’s congregation remarked, “If Jeffrey Dahmer is going to heaven, then I don’t want to be there.”

That sentiment troubled Roy.

In his book he writes, How can a Christian hold that viewpoint? I don’t understand it. Does it come from a misunderstanding of the forgiveness of sin? Is forgiveness limited to those who are not very bad after all? Is there no joy in knowing that a sinner has turned to God?

In reading recent reviews of Roy’s book, I’ve seen similar reactions. Many people seem surprised by the thought that Jeffrey has been forgiven for what he did.

But isn't Christ's blood enough to make even the vilest offender clean and acceptable to the Father?

I once did an exercise with my Sunday School class where we were asked to rank various people according to how well we think they would be accepted at our church. Topping the list of the most unacceptable people were ex-cons.

Maybe one reason for this is fear. We know of their troubled past, and we fear that they have not really changed. The apostle Paul faced the same kind of fears. When he chose to follow God and gave up his persecution of Christians, many still feared him and were skeptical that he had really changed.

Yet, through Scripture, we see what a difference God made in Paul’s life. Once he met the Living God he was never the same. Why can we not accept that same miracle of God’s grace for someone like Jeffrey Dahmer? After all, Moses and David were also both murders, but we see what great works God did in their lives.
Perhaps our apprehension stems from the fact that we have allowed ourselves to categorize sin. We classify some sins as small and almost inconsequential. Others are big and really, really bad. Murder, for example, is much worse than gossip or even adultery.

But I don’t believe that is how God sees sin.

Jesus taught that if a man even looked at a woman lustfully, then he had committed adultery. It seems like to God sin is sin, regardless of how “bad” we think it is on our sliding scale of human judgment.

Does that mean that harboring bitterness and unforgiveness in our heart toward our enemies is just as bad to God as if we acted on those feelings and physically attacked that person?

It is something to think about.

Perhaps what disturbs people most about Jeffrey’s life is that he was found to be sane when he committed his horrific crimes. If that is the case, then what prompted him to do it? Where does such evil come from?

Roy believes that without God, such evil can come from any one of us.

He writes, Jeff was a sinner. His life proves there is no limit to our capacity to sin or be cruel to other people. We are all candidates for murder and mayhem. It doesn’t take crazy people to do such things. … I believe any of us are capable of everything Jeff did, if we leave God out of our lives.

That’s a scary thought that may be hard for us to swallow. Perhaps without God we wouldn’t become murders, but who knows what our sinful natures are capable of. Praise God that He redeems us from a life of sin and working only to please our sinful nature!

I, for one, am thankful to know that God’s grace covers any and every sin, whether we humans believe it should or not.

Even Jeffrey had trouble believing that God’s grace extended to someone who had done the things he had.

I had to explain the meaning of grace and how it was applied many times before he was able to relax this concern, Roy writes. Once he could see that being a Christian made him right in God’s sight, no matter what, he was able to lay aside many of his fears.

Isn’t that what grace is all about?

The “good news” of the gospel is that Jesus has already paid the price for all of our sins. He does expect us to turn away from them and walk in obedience to Him from that point on, but our past sins are no longer an issue. To a sinner like me, that truly is good news.

While many of us look at Jeffrey’s past and find ourselves unable to comprehend that God’s grace runs that deep, Roy feels that Jeffrey’s story demonstrates what the gospel is all about.

Jeff simply illustrates what Jesus can do with sinful men, Roy writes.

I would like to meet Pastor Roy one day. I would like to thank him for the unconditional love and grace he extended to Jeffrey.

It is the same type of love and grace that God extends to each of us.


Dark Journey, Deep Grace is available in bookstores and online.

Have you found peace with God? Learn more about He forgives your sins.

Comments? Email me

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