The first we hear of Paul in Acts, he held the coats for the men who stoned Stephen. Shortly after this account, he is recorded dragging men and women off to prison for believing in Christ. Eventually, he is given permission to seek out Christians in Damascus.
After a vision, losing his sight, then miraculously having it returned to him, Paul does a complete 180. From that moment on, he teaches everyone he meets of Christ. A significant portion of the New Testament was written by him. A great deal of Christian thought can be traced to his writings.
Paul wasn’t immediately accepted by Christians. And even long after, there is evidence of disagreement between some of Christ’s original apostles and Paul. Conflicts that have shaped Christianity can be traced to competing ideas from the Pauline epistles and the authors of the other New Testament letters.
Regardless, Paul – a fervent enemy of Christianity – became one of its major proponents. He helped make this strange fringe religion palatable to an educated Greek populace throughout the Roman Empire. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that Christianity would not have survived without Paul.
A similar figure appears in the Book of Mormon. Alma is the high priest over the church among a group called the Nephites. His son, also named Alma, rebels against his father’s teachings. Alma the Younger strove to persuade people to reject his father’s teachings.
One day, however, Alma has a vision, falls into a coma-like state, and miraculously recovers. Upon waking up, he spends the rest of his life teaching everyone about Christ. He becomes high priest and nearly half of the longest book in the Book of Mormon is about him traveling around the Nephite lands teaching the people. One of the most powerful sermons in the Book of Mormon, Alma 32-33, is given by Alma. Alma’s teachings helped unite the people just before a major war broke out with the Nephites neighbors. After the war resolves, his descendants continue to teach about Christ among the Nephites and their neighbors for the next century and more.
What would have happened if the New-Testament-era Christians had rejected Paul because of his earlier persecutions? What would have happened to the Nephites if they had rejected Alma because of his rebellious teenage years?
As a teenager, I was pretty judgmental of people who made different choices than me. I’ve fought hard to escape that tendency. For a time I thought this was a conservative Christian trend. But I’m finding that is definitely not the case.
Rejecting those who have thought or acted differently is simply, as the Book of Mormon puts it, the natural man. Everyone is equally susceptible to it. The only answer is to, as Christ did and taught, love one another. We must forgive. We must reject ideological tests or seeking some sort of purity from others. The reality is, we will never find it.
If we want to advance the world, we need to spend our time learning what is best, living what is best, and patiently persuading others to do what is best. Any other course inevitably ends in crusades, holy wars, purges, and tyranny. And whether that is performed by right or left, it is always wrong.