Rick Jellen, professor and associate dean in the College of Life Sciences, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address. He spoke on how his experiences as a convert and plant geneticist have taught him to appreciate the diversity of the Lord’s vineyard.
“It isn’t hard,” he states, “to see that olive trees, oats and quinoa can serve as wonderful metaphors that represent people and the importance of human diversity.”
But studying plant life can have spiritual parallels, too. In particular, studying olive grafting, invasive species and the crossbreeding of quinoa and goosefoot weed reminded Jellen of the parable of the Lord’s vineyard.
An important assertion of this parable is that all trees — obedient or wayward — have worth to the Lord of the vineyard.
"Both the Lord of the vineyard and His servant see that there is value in the 'wild' olive trees — they have the potential to become domesticated or tamed [through] the refining value of experience because, after all, they are also children of God," Jellen said.
The Lord’s hope for all of the trees is the same — discrimination does not exist in the Lord’s vineyard and has no place in the gospel.
Furthermore, through research with his college’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee Jellen has come to believe that the gospel “will become even more successful as our leadership reflects the ever-diversifying landscape of international Church membership.”
To appreciate and uplift diversity within the Church, Jellen offers two points:
1. Remember the divine heritage of all God’s children
As a 15-year-old convert to the Church of Jesus Christ, Jellen immediately had his faith tested when attending a friend’s worship service of another faith. Unfortunately, after the service, a member of its congregation attacked Jellen's faith and the character of Joseph Smith. Despite being unprepared to defend himself, Jellen strengthened his testimony later that night.
“[I realized] that the foundational belief upon which we disagreed was the idea that we are not creatures but actually spirit-children of God,” Jellen remembered.
Jellen felt deeply connected to this doctrine, perhaps because of his devout father, a secular Jew and single parent. Having noticed the sacrifices and deep love of his father, Jellen found it easy “to embrace the concept of a loving Heavenly Father as the great universal God.”
“How wonderful it is,” he exclaimed, “to think of God as our Father, endowed with a glorified body and passions, among them the great emotions of love and empathy, and we are all His children!”
If we are all spirit children of God, then we should condemn discrimination because it disregards the spiritual identities of God’s children. Remembering our premortal origins can help us feel God’s love for us and His other children.
2. Recognize the potential of every spirit
During a discussion on the art, science and business contributions of Jews and Latter-day Saints with his father, Jellen had another important epiphany. While his father said that Jews’ religious devotion transforms them into loving and highly productive members of society, Jellen suggested that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also encouraged to pursue secular excellence.
Citing a 1976 address from President Spencer W. Kimball about the “brilliant stars” and “refining agents” that God’s children can become, Jellen explained to his father, “Our loving Heavenly Father has afforded us additional grace through the covenants we have made. One potential purpose of those covenants is to empower us to become ‘brilliant stars’ and ‘refining agents.’”
This moment helped Jellen recognize the gospel’s emphasis on the potential of all God’s children. Because of its principles on the process of becoming, “The gospel,” Jellen explains, “should also engender in us a heightened awareness of, and empathy for, the suffering of our neighbor.”
Through his experiences as a geneticist, convert and member of a diversity committee, Jellen has developed a personal testimony of the beauty of a diverse church. He encourages BYU community members to respect, include and love everyone.
"For BYU to fulfill the prophetic hope … and fully become a ‘refining host’ of ‘brilliant stars’ … we need to welcome and nurture the expanding diversity of our multicultural American and international brothers and sisters in all of their ethnicities, cultures, languages, and life experiences."
As we develop a personal relationship with God and expand our contributions to the Church and society, we can become better disciples of Christ.
“Our Father in Heaven expects us to develop this unity and cultivate our diverse talents and abilities so that we can be counted among the ‘few servants’ charged with pruning and edifying His vineyard.”
Liz Darger, senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator for BYU, will deliver next week’s devotional address on May 18 at 11:05 a.m.
Darger's remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143.