Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Baptism of Jeffrey Dahmer- Dark Journey, Deep Grace

The Baptism of Jeffrey Dahmer

(Reprinted from the Christian Woman May/April 1995)

by Roy Ratcliff

Convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was beaten and killed Nov. 28, 1994, by a fellow inmate at the Colombia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wis. The attack occurred while Dahmer and another inmate were cleansing a bathroom in the prison gymnasium.

The minister who baptized Dahmer shares his story and tells about a courageous woman who thought Dahmer was worth saving.

I first heard about Jeffrey Dahmer's desire for baptism through Roy McRay, a preacher in Milwaukee. He had received a phone call from Curtis Booth of Crescent, Okla., who had sent a Bible correspondence course to Jeffrey. Just a couple of weeks later, Mary Mott of Arlington, Va., had done the same; and at the end of the course, Jeffrey had requested baptism. After making the necessary arrangements with the prison chaplain to meet Jeffrey and to confirm his understanding, I learned about Mary. She had sent Jeffrey a World Bible School correspondence course after seeing a TV report about the book written by Lionel Dahmer, Jeffrey's father. Mary felt a deep conviction that this young man needed to hear the Gospel. She sent him a letter that said essentially, "I don't know if you want to do this, but I believe it would help you if you studied the Bible." In the New Testament, Paul wrote about Timothy's sincere faith, which first came from the women in his life, his grandmother and his mother. Paul then added these words: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self– discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). Mary is to be commended for the faithful spirit of power and love that drove her to reach out, even against the advice of other people, and try to save the soul of someone so commonly despised.

Mary did not know whether her efforts would be well received. She simply acted on faith. To her delight and surprise, Jeffrey answered positively. At the end of the Bible study course, he wrote both Mary and Curtis requesting baptism.

Mary didn't know whom to call, but she tried the best she could to tell others that Jeffrey wanted to be baptized. When I first was informed of this request, I contacted the prison chaplain. I told him that the congregation in Baraboo, Wis., was closer than mine. I said that I would contact the minister and that we would make arrangements to meet with Jeffrey.

The minister in Baraboo told me he was planning to move out of state and could not come with me. He also had been contacted by Mary. He had received a phone call from her and photocopies of her letter to Jeffrey, including his reply asking for baptism. I was given the photocopies, and we wished each other well.

After my initial meeting with Jeffrey, I phoned Mary to tell her how the meeting had gone. We have been in contact with each other ever since. When I first met Jeffrey, I asked him why he wanted to be baptized. He answered that he always had thought from watching televangelists that baptism was optional. But he had concluded from his Bible study that baptism was necessary.

Jeff and his dog FriskyPhysically, Jeffrey was an average–sized man of 33. He did not appear to be a weight–lifter but looked quite normal in build. I would guess his height to have been around 6 feet and his weight about 190 pounds. His hair was slightly blond, and he wore glasses. Some days he was shaven; other days he was not. He usually wore prison clothing and looked like all the other prisoners.

Jeffrey appeared to get along well with the other inmates. One earlier physical attack was made on him in prison, but that was exceptional. The attacker only recently had been placed in Jeffrey's unit, and he later confessed that he had attacked Jeffrey only to gain publicity. Jeffrey revered the Bible as God's Word. Because of some information he had read, he preferred the King James translation more than others, believing it to be more accurate. We spent quite a lot of time discussing Bible translations.

He also was influenced deeply toward the premillennial viewpoint of the second coming of Christ and the once–saved–always–saved viewpoint of the televangelists. But he was very open to Bible study and studied on his own as much as he could. He also read everything that was sent to him.

I asked Jeffrey what his religious background was. He explained that his parents had attended the church of Christ when he was a small child and continued to attend until he was about 5 years old. From that time on, he had not had any religious contact at all except for television and the times he lived with his grandmother. He did note that his father had been a faithful member of the church when Jeffrey was a child.

I was not able to study the Bible much with Jeff before baptizing him. Most of our time was taken up with how to accomplish the baptism in a prison setting.

The chaplain was resistant to bringing in a baptistry, even a donated one. Apparently, he had received a similar request before because he said prison policy did allow using the prison whirlpool tub for that purpose. Someone previously had donated a baptismal robe, which was in storage. Once permission was granted, which took two weeks, I met with Jeff, the chaplain, and two prison guards. After taking Jeff's confession, we were escorted to the medical facility where the tub was located.

Jeff was concerned about the baptismal "formula" to use. I normally say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins." He had been told that baptism was invalid unless the name of Jesus was the only name mentioned. After studying with him about this matter, he agreed to allow me to us the words with which I was comfortable. After Jeff changed into the baptistry robe, I went in and baptized him.

Nearly everyone raises the question about Jeff's sincerity. But I was there, and these questioners weren't. I deal with people who want to be baptized all the time. Knowing for certain the sincerity of the one requesting baptism is impossible. I just accept the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 12: "[O]ut of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (v.34 NIV).

I cannot know the condition of another person's heart unless I listen to his or her words. I listened to Jeff's words, and I watched his eyes and his body language. I listened to the tone of his voice and observed his mannerisms, and I am convinced that he was totally sincere in his desire.

Some people wonder how baptism might have benefited Jeff in terms of his stature with the prison system. The answer is that it had absolutely no effect on his life sentences. He still had 15 life sentences to serve in Wisconsin and one in Ohio, if he was ever released from the Wisconsin prison. But being released never would have happened. He had accepted the fact that he would die in prison.

Jeff had nothing to gain in this life by being baptized; he had everything to gain in the next life. He was baptized for the same reason anyone else is baptized. In the light of the Bible, he surveyed his life and concluded that he needed to be saved.

Jeff's death comes as a major surprise to me and his family. I last saw him when we studied together the day before Thanksgiving. He was in good spirits. He led a prayer and gave me a Thanksgiving card, expressing his gratitude to me for studying the Bible with him.

Jeff was beginning to embrace the Christian spirit. His father and several pen pals saw a major transformation in who he was after he became a Christian.

His father has been restored and is again a faithful member of the church, as is a younger brother, who was converted in college.

A memorial service was held for Jeff, which was attended by his family, several Christians, and two sisters of one of his victims who had grown close to the Dahmer family since their brother's death.

I developed a very good sense of friendship with Jeff, and I am feeling a sense of loss. He had a hunger and a thirst for righteousness like I haven't seen in a long time, and I will miss him.

“Roy Ratcliff, a graduate of York College and Oklahoma Christian College, has been a minister for 24 years and works with the church of Christ in Madison, Wis. He and his wife, Susan, have two grown children.”

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