Of Sine and Cosine

We’ve all been buzzing about the Ordain Women plan to wear purple and attempt to attend the Priesthood Session of the April 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ordain Woman (OW) is a movement created by DC-based human rights lawer, Kate Kelly, to request that LDS women be formally ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church. OW builds on a history of several decades where individuals, predominantly women, have petitioned the LDS Church for priesthood ordination for women. Past protests involved tactics such as groups of individuals showing up to General Conferences of the Church and prominently voting to oppose the standing leaders of the Church, praying to Mother in Heaven, presenting bouquets of white roses at Church headquarters, taking out full-page ads in the local papers, and participating in candle-light vigils.

I recently had a chance to read I am Malala, the story of the courageous girl from Swat, Pakistan, who became an outspoken witness against the Taliban practice of denying girls education. In response, the Taliban shot her. Malala survived and has become the face of those demanding all girls be granted the right to education. Currently there are 31 million girls in the world who do not have access to education. Children of women who are illiterate are nearly twice as likely to die before age 5.

It seems OW would like to paint themselves with the glamour of Malala, as individuals who are merely working to end oppression. However they seem to have forgotten that members in the LDS Church do not gain position by seeking it. One is called to serve. In my experience Stake Presidents and Bishops and Mission Presidents are as likely as not to have a subsequent calling as primary teacher for the 4 year olds or nursery assistant.

Order in all Things

In September 1830, Oliver Cowdery tried to tell Joseph what to do. The result was D&C 28, particularly verses D&C 28:6–7. The revelation basically tells Joseph (and Oliver via Joseph) that the individual in charge is the individual in charge. Others are welcome to advise, but no one is to presume to command the individual who leads the Church, for “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant [the prophet], for he receiveth them even as Moses.”

OW supporters may benefit from looking at the outcome when various men in Church history have used strident tactics. One such case was Apostle Moses Thatcher[ref]Edward Leo Lyman, The Alienation of an Apostle from His Quorum: The Moses Thatcher Case, available online at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V18N02_69.pdf, retrieved 25 Mar 2014.[/ref] in the late 1890s. Moses vehemently disagreed with fellow apostles about a mining business they ran together. This antipathy spread to other issues, including the Church’s decision to withdraw from the political arena, which Moses did not support. Eventually, the rest of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles voted to relieve Moses of membership in the Quorum.

Those involved in OW have “trained” themselves to be thorns in the side of the organization, which is not the way the Church runs. The ideal is Zion, where we are one in heart and mind (c.f. Moses 7: 18). So were The Lord to decide to give priesthood to women, those who had agitated for this would be very unlikely to be the women called to serve in previously male-dominated roles, so long as they maintained a pattern of attempting to effect change through uncompromising confrontation.

Is the Church “True” or not?

If priesthood is not a unique power associated with the only authorized church and is merely a pre-requisite used to gate who can do what in one church of many, then it doesn’t matter if those who disagree with the leader(s) of the church proceed to badger, lobby, and shame those leaders into making that priesthood universal to eliminate gender differentiation that in some instances is presumed to lead to negative outcomes for one gender relative to another gender. This is analogous to a club and processes associated with joining the club.

If, on the other hand, the Mormon church is the only fully-authorized organ to effect the salvation of mankind through all generations of time and all peoples (e.g., “true”), then it’s not appropriate for those who disagree to claim to be supporters while vigorously working to badger, lobby, and shame the leaders to change. Such an organization is not a club, but something more controlled. Military analogies spring to mind, or other organizations with critical pre-requisites that have and maintain clear lines of authority.

This business about whether the Church is true comes into play with regards to the transparency issue. People can’t be transparent about stuff they don’t know. For example, it would not be possible for leaders of the Mormon church to publish a roadmap to female ordination to the priesthood. To paraphrase David O. McKay, an expection for such presumes that the leaders are in charge (rather than leading “as Moses”).

It never hurts to request that individuals consider alternatives. However the answer may not be what the petitioner expected or wanted.

I’ve mentioned the time when my son was in the hospital with heart trouble, and he was suffering from Junction Ectopic Tachycardia after heart surgery. My husband had given my son a blessing, and didn’t say anything about my son surviving to return home. I took my husband to task for that lack. My husband looked at me a bit blankly, and said he hadn’t felt prompted to bless our son in that manner. Since I have been trained that it is acceptable to give blessings by the power of my faith in Christ, I took the opportunity later that evening to give my son a blessing. I felt confirmed in blessing him that his heart rate would come down and that he would come home. The next morning my son’s heart rate did slow–to zero. And he returned home to that God who had lent him to me for a week.

Having the divine power we call priesthood or the companion of that divine power, faith, does not mean we can bend God to our will. Sometimes the answer is “No.”

Of Levites and Ladies

I think it would be instructive if we had many members of the Church who were Levites, with a right to preside as Bishops without being ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. I can imagine they might object, claiming that they wanted to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, to the office of High Priest, rather than be allowed to perform those callings as a mere Priest or Elder. They could argue that being excluded from the High Priest’s quorum in their Stake puts them at a disadvantage, cuts them off from opportunities, and limits their exposure to role models.

Women have long poured their lives into Godly service. Like the hypothetical Levite, they are able to serve and administer and lead without the need for having an additional priesthood conferred on them. Like the hypothetical Levite, some women feel this cuts them off from opportunities and limits their exposure to role models.

From my standpoint, allowing ordination to positions (being set apart) while maintaining a gender differentiation with respect to priesthood helps deconflict the ways in which men and women serve. In this manner, members of the Church are able to serve God’s children in an orthogonal manner, reducing confliction when two faithful individuals at the head of a family are anxiously engaged. The loving couples engaged in Church service tend to naturally respect each other, and will tend to avoid scheduling activities in a manner that would cause the need for both men and women to be away from their home base simultaneously.

Sine and Cosine

Men and women are similar, and yet there are differences. It’s like the trigonometry functions, sine and cosine.[ref]If you’re rusty on sine and cosine, Business Insider has an article showing several nice animated gis, available online at http://www.businessinsider.com/7-gifs-trigonometry-sine-cosine-2013-5, retrieved 25 Mar 2014.[/ref] Cosine could wish to be sine, and point out that in almost every important way cosine and sine are similar. They oscillate with the same frequency, they have the same heights and depths. Why, then, cosine might ask, is sine allowed to rise as the ordinal increases from zero, while cosine is consigned to fall? Let us all be equal, cosine might agitate.

But if cosine were sine, there would be no way to explain circles or waves. The whole would collapse to a simple line, with limited capacity relative to the circular whole that was possible when cosine and sine existed in separate spheres.


One might argue that in so many families where there isn’t gender differentiation at the head (e.g., divorced or widowed parents or those who have never been married), there is no “circle,” just limits on the purview of those single gender heads of household to engage in the work of The Lord.

Yin and Yang

Rather than speaking of sine and cosine, we can talk in mystical eastern terms, saying man is like the light or sun or Yang and woman like the dark or moon or Yin.
This is completely rooted in nature. Chinese folks would measure the angle of the sun when the sun was closest to directly overhead. When the angle of the sun or change in length of the shadow at astronomical noon is plotted in a polar format, one gets the following graph:

Once one inserts a black dot on the day of the longest day (shortest shadow) and a white dot on the day of the shortest day (longest shadow), you get the traditional Yin Yang symbol.

Right now, as I look out my window at yet another snowy day after so many unexpected snowy days this winter, I can imagine it would be great to live in a place where the days are always the same length. The world would always be pretty warm.

Ironically, in a world where every day is the same length, there are downsides. Viruses and pests never go away the way they do for those of us who live in temperate climates. While there would be no cold, there would also be no snow (and skiing, etc.). The days melt into one constant sameness, where the only season becomes whether it is raining or parched.

Relating this back to the priesthood, Mormon women have strong organizations focused on the unique needs of women, such as Relief Society. As we all know, men and women learn from the same manuals, but in that third hour, when we separate into gender-exclusive gatherings, we are able to tend to the unique experiences of our respective genders. In the second hour, we have typically sat together as men and women and learned together. This is fabulous, but I rarely hear individuals wax rapsodic about Sunday School. It is their bonds with their sisters in Relief Society or brothers in the priesthood quorum meetings that they tend to cherish.

If women had the priesthood, what would happen in this third hour? It appears the third hour would become like Sunday School, a meeting with both genders together, learning side by side. Perhaps Sunday School would become the history/doctrine lesson. The third hour, Priesthood, perhaps, would be the service/ministry hour.

While there are some who might welcome elimination of the gender differentiated time at Church, one can imagine that for many, the flattening of ministerial treatment between men and women would eliminate a safe haven.[ref]Same gender education has been implemented in some areas, in an attempt to increase achievement. While there is still controversy, the same gender environment does appear to reduce distraction and harrassment that is present in co-educational settings.[ref]See Lea Hubbard and Amanda Datnow, Do Single Sex Schools Improve the Education of Low-Income and Minority Students, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 121-122, available online at http://www.csub.edu/~cgavin/mycourses/anthro2.pdf retrieved on 25 March 2014.[/ref] It is ironic that Kate Kelly mentions how much she treasures Relief Society, because were the Church to open priesthood and all callings to both genders, Relief Society as an organization would be the most likely fatality of a hypothetical OW coup d’état.


I happen to live in a part of the world where women are treasured members of society. They are allowed, encouraged to be all they wish to be. I am the breadwinner for my family, my husband is the stay-at-home parent. I am content to follow the lead of my Church leaders, male and female, and am similarly content to lead when called upon.

I don’t mind if women become recipients of priesthood power in the LDS Church, nor to I feel I need to advocate for being granted this power.

I would close with this quote from Bruce Lee[ref]John Little, ed., Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (2000) p. 13, available online at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bruce_Lee, retrieved 25 March 2014.[/ref]:

We are always in a process of becoming and NOTHING is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever changing. OPEN yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the TOTAL OPENNESS OF THE LIVING MOMENT. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

20 thoughts on “Of Sine and Cosine

  1. Regarding yin and yang, they are different and unequal but equally important to creation and to life. Each has different properties (yin is better in some things and yang is better in others). If they are alone they cannot form the perfect shape, the circle. Together, they enhance each other’s properties to become many times better than they are alone.

  2. I doubt this post will get many comments, since those who followed the comments on Bruce’s post about transparency and Kate Kelly will recognize many portions of this post as deriving from my comments over there.

    However, as there was a request that I turn the Sine and Cosine comment into a post, I decided to go ahead and put together what I felt was a coherent narrative that happened to include the Sine and Cosine comment.

    For anyone who merely wishes to forward the “good part” of this post out, I’ve included various anchors:

    Order in All Things

    Is the Church “True” or not?

    Of Levites and Ladies

    Sine and Cosine

    Yin and Yang

  3. Clark tweets: Members in the #LDS Church do not gain position by seeking it.” #OrdainWomen is, therefore, an apostate group.

    I will note that this is Clark’s opinion. I am loathe to fling the apostate lable. I would, perhaps, indicate that those seeking priesthood so stridently appear not to understand what the oath and covenant of the priesthood requires.

    Such ladies will counter that they know plenty of men who aren’t meek and submissive and obedient. However I would hope that individuals seeking the priesthood would desire to become the best kind of priesthood holder, rather than be content to merely be less of a slime than the worst priesthood holder.

  4. Meg, thank you for this post. All sorts of Meg-goodness all in one location!

  5. I think it’s kid of fun that we have a provision for sons of Aaron to be Bishops by inheritance, not needing to be given the Aaronic Priesthood, since they have it from their lineage. I can’t help think, though, of the poor man who has to be Bishop, no matter where he moves, til he dies.

  6. Frank, if I found out I was a son of Aaron, I’m pretty sure that would cause me to leave the Church for the very reason you state!

  7. On the same tangent here about the sons of Aaron, question: even though they by inheritance have the right to the Bishopric, don’t they still need to be called by the proper priesthood authority? I was thinking that if you had more than one Levite in the congregation who should be the Bishop then? Wouldn’t the leaders still need to pray and go through the same process as usual to pick of among them? I think even though they have the inherited right, they still would need to be called, set apart and sustained by the congregation. I maybe wrong, but I think the order of things wouldn’t change. Also, every time they moved to another ward, would the bishop at that ward have to be released automatically or would the Levite have to wait until that bishop runs his course and is released for him to assume his birthright calling as the Bishop?

  8. And the levite would still need to be ordained to the higher priesthood to offiate as a high priest and preside over those in the melch. priesthood in his ward. His right to bishop would only allow him to preside over the aaronic quorums.

  9. Meg, you clearly understand sine and cosine, and a great many other things besides. I request your help on a gender-related issue.

    I am a homeschooling dad and for years have been an instructor for high-school level co-op science classes. Students study on their own with a textbook and then meet in my home weekly for group instruction, labs, discussion, etc.

    One of my biggest challenges is girls who say they don’t like math and science, and who join our co-op groups essentially because their parents have forced them to come. It breaks my heart that girls are much more likely than boys to say that they don’t like math and science, or even worse, that they “can’t do it” or “can’t understand it”. It hurts me when any child of God says “can’t” in such a matter.

    I do not describe myself as any kind of feminist. I am not much concerned about breaking down stereotypes, breaking glass ceilings, or breaking down barriers in society. I’m not trying to break anything, I’m trying to build people. I want girls and women to learn math and science because it will help them in ways that have nothing to do with position or status in society. It will help them eternally.

    I don’t buy the concept that these girls are merely reacting to subtle messages that “society” is sending them that math and science are for boys. If any family has attempted to avoid this trap it is ours, and we have homeschooled all of our children from the beginning. Yet one of these reluctant/scared girls is my own daughter. She equates math and science with a technical career (full disclosure, I am an engineer.) She doesn’t want to become a nerd like her dad. And her mom, a wonderful and intelligent woman, is not a technical person. So she just doesn’t see the need for math and science in her life. Especially her preferred future life as a full-time mother and homemaker.

    Here is what I have tried so far in my exhortations to LDS girls in general and my daughters in particular. I list the more important point first:
    * Your Heavenly Father knows math and science. Don’t you want to become more like Him?
    * You’re the future teacher of your children. Having more knowledge is better when teaching your children.
    * Knowing math and science will make you a better homemaker. You have to make all sorts of health choices, financial choices, etc. and having more knowledge is better.
    * You have to have some kind of plan B in case your goal of full-time mother and homemaker doesn’t work out. Better knowledge of math and science can help you be more independent.
    * Even if math and science are not “your thing” it is good to be well rounded. I think everyone should study music too.

    But my exhortations seem to fall flat because I am not only a man but a nerd. And to most teenage girls, nerd == undesirable. My daughter tolerates my instruction out of duty and love (she’s a good girl and I’m proud of her) but I’d like to kindle a spark of true interest and confidence in her if I can.

    Meg, do you identify yourself as a woman fully aligned with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and also a lover of math and science? If so, have you got any useful words of encouragement to teenage LDS girls regarding math and science? I am interested in encouragement both to spark interest and also to build confidence. Maybe it would be helpful coming from a faithful LDS woman who understands sine and cosine well, uses words like “amplitude” and “oscillate” and “frequency” as if she fundamentally understands the concepts, and puts a 3-D vector diagram on her blog post.

    Thank you sincerely,
    David H

  10. Hi David,

    Those who study such things find that the single biggest correlating factor to girls seeking to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is being in an area where women are scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.

    Here’s a fun fact. You know that Malaysia flight that went down? The cool mathematicians and scientists that helped find that location (and the location of the Air France flight that went down in 2009) work at Metron in Fairfax County. While I can’t claim to be responsible for their brilliance, I am one of Metron’s sponsors (an engineer and physicist by training). Being able to work with brilliant people who are saving the world in so many different ways is one perk of being trained in math and science.

    What speaks to these young ladies’ souls? First find that out. I guarantee that whatever they are passionate about, a knowledge of math and science will make them more effective. You’ve pointed out the benefit of math and science to your daughter’s wish to be a mother. But have you talked about the painful difference between a mother who doesn’t know how to conserve and build her family’s resources and one who does? The difference is weekly worry, panic, and debt or the lack of those things.

    Being literate in math and science is nearly like being literate in written language, in our culture. Does she wish to remain wholly dependent on others? Or will she want to be able to understand when the doctors tell her something is fundamentally wrong with her child, whether it be a temporary infection or a life-altering disability? Does she want to be vulnerable to every rumor about “facts,” or does she want to be able to know for herself how people lie and manipulate, and thereby be able to avoid evil people who just want to take from her to their own satisfaction.

    I love the story of Malala Yousafzai, who has changed the world in her passion for girls’ education. She was studying physics in her early teens, back when the Taliban first closed the schools. Later, when the Taliban shot her for daring to suggest that women should be educated, Malala was desperate to get her physics book back, in the hospital in England where she was recuperating. It wasn’t so much that she loved physics (though she does). It was that she wasn’t good at physics, and therefore she knew she needed to work harder to master this subject that, while beautiful to her mind, was not easy for her to master.

    When I was young I had a bishop who was a 4-star general. I remember a day when he and his wife invited me to dinner to meet someone. I was a teenager, so I assumed they wanted to introduce me to a boy. It wasn’t until we were sitting to dinner with their friend, the US ambassador to some European nation, that I realized their vision for me was much more than just setting up a date. They saw me as someone who, while being a faithful Mormon woman and future mother, also had the potential to be important in foreign affairs. My bishop was actually rather sad that I started working for the Navy as an engineer instead.

    Not everyone has to have adore the kind of math and science they are exposed to in school. It’s like how relatively few people “love” English grammar exercise. But you can’t enjoy Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare unless you can read. There are so many amazing things you can’t enjoy if you aren’t math literate.

    My daughter writes: Some girls are determined to disavow math and science because it isn’t feminine, like baking, sewing and spinning and having kids. But baking is chemistry; sewing is math, spinning (fiber) is physics, and having kids is biology. The laws of the world won’t be changed because you don’t know them, you simply won’t know them (Newton discovered the laws and formulas for gravity, but that doesn’t mean gravity didn’t exist before he ‘discovered’ it.) Active ignorance rarely enriches someone’s life, but the godly pursuit of knowledge always does.

    Back to Meg. Knowledge is power. Even if you don’t like math and science, you need them. This sentiment is echoed by my daughter, who doesn’t love math and science anywhere as much as I do, and who even loathed her 8th grade Algebra teacher (the feeling was mutual – he told us so).

  11. Thank you Meg and Meg’s daughter! Excellent points and helpful suggestions.

    Though I hope the story of Malala Yousafzai will be inspiring to them, I think my target audience of LDS young women would like to see LDS role models too.

    So now I have a goal and the start of a plan. I’d like to invite faithful LDS sister scientists and engineers to call in to our homeschool co-op science class some time this Fall and speak inspiring words to my daughter and the other LDS young women in our group about the beauty and usefulness of math and science in their lives. Or even better, if they’re not too far from our home in NC, to come in person. Our co-op classes tend to have about 9 youth in them, approx. half of them girls. So, not influencing millions directly, just influencing the mothers of millions.

    Meg, are you interested in participating in this? Let me know and we can set up some more direct communication.

    David H

  12. I really enjoyed both the article and the comment string. You introduced a new angle by which to view this issue, fresh insight, and thoughtful commentary. Thank you for taking the time to produce such high quality content.

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