Tal Bachman, son of rock legend Randy Bachman, was raised in the Church. Through a crisis of faith, Tal decided to leave the Church in late 2003. Since that time he has been sharing his exit story with those who are curious and in various venues critical of the Church. (In the parlance of those who leave the Church, an exit story is their telling of awakening to the knowledge that the Church is no longer true for them. In many respects, an exit story is simply another type of conversion story or, more properly, a deconversion story.)
Part of Tal’s exit story revolves around his interaction with his stake president at the time, Randy Keyes. Tal often tells, with incredulity, how he heard from his stake president that he didn’t believe in different aspects of the gospel either.
It appears that President Keyes has finally read some of Tal’s comments, notably a message left by Tal on the Mormon Discussions message board run by the infamous critic “Dr. Shades.” The comments by Tal are not new; he has been making the same comments for some time. (For example, in an abbreviated exit story on the Post-Mormon site.) I first read similar comments by Tal on the Recovery from Mormonism message boards about four years ago.
I am pleased to report that we no longer have to rely solely on Tal Bachman’s version of reality. I’m pleased to share with you an open letter from President Randy Keyes and a separate open letter from his wife, Julie. These letters are posted here with their permission.
Open Letter to Tal Bachman
April 27, 2008
It’s me, President Randy Keyes. Someone brought to my attention that you have been purporting to quote me on the web. I read your comments about the talk we had five years ago on a message board post you made on April 17, 2008. I was surprised at how you reported things I never said, as if I had said them. I now want to speak for myself on what you chose to write.
First, you stated that my term as stake president is over. I’m not sure how you would have gotten such incorrect information, but I am still stake president of the Victoria British Columbia Stake. You also reported that I said that Joseph Smith “hadn’t told the truth” and that he “invented stories” and that he “deliberately took advantage of girls.” I never said these things, nor do I believe these statements. These are your statements, not mine. You have invented things I did not say.
When we spoke, I tried to listen to and acknowledge your thinking, but you obviously did not listen to me. Here is my reality: For as long as I can remember, I have had a knowledge that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God. In my childhood I visited Palmyra often. At age 14 I felt a spiritual witness of the reality of the First Vision while in the Sacred Grove. At age 16 I experienced a spiritual confirmation of Joseph Smith as a prophet while I stood in Carthage Jail. At age 18 I had a life-changing spiritual witness of Christ as my Lord and King. At age 19, while reading the Book of Mormon, I found myself in the presence of prophets (I did not, as you said, communicate with them). There have been many other spiritual events, including at the present time as I serve in the Victoria Stake.
I know God the Father and Jesus Christ personally visited Joseph Smith. I know that Moroni visited Joseph Smith and I felt a strong confirmation of this when I recently stood in the upstairs bedroom of the rebuilt Smith log cabin where Moroni stood. I know he led Joseph to the gold plates, that they were translated by the gift and power of God into the Book of Mormon.
I believe that John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John restored Priesthood authority to the earth because I have seen the Priesthood in action. I regularly feel its power as it moves the Stake along and as it influences the individuals I get to work with and talk to. As I said to you and your wife, I do believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet.
How is it that our memories of our interview are so different? In our talk I felt your questions and struggles were genuine.; I wanted to help. In my profession as a therapist (as in our discussion) I try to follow the principle of “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In that initial visit it was your turn to talk. I accepted that you could not find peace on your interpretation of historical items you read concerning Joseph Smith. I listened and reflected what I heard, and when I would nod and say, “sure,” it was an indication that I was listening and that what you were saying was comprehendible.
Because I was listening for understanding, I carefully, mildly challenged some of your views by stating my beliefs and witnesses, and as to “scrutiny,” I am convinced that the Church will continue to stand up well. Over time, truth will prevail and the Church and Brother Joseph will be further exonerated and praised. Misinformation, misrepresentation, and misunderstandings will be diminished.
In your message board post you reported that I said my mission president made up motivational stories to get missionaries to follow him. You also indicated that I said Joseph Smith did the same thing. Let me be clear: I never said my mission president made up stories or that Joseph Smith did. My mission comments regarding motivation centered on the president observing that some people are motivated by external supports (like newsletters that announce top baptismal numbers) while others have quiet, inner motivation. I did not talk about “making up stories.”
Understanding each other—especially in spiritual things—is not a single event but an ongoing process. It was my hope that we would have ongoing discussions so you would get to eventually understand my views and testimony. In the first interview, I provided what I viewed as acknowledgement that I understood what you were saying, not an acknowledgment that what you were saying was true. In future discussions, had they occurred, we would have talked more about those matters, continuing with hope and faith until more information settled your questions. I felt that when I spoke of my spiritual confirmations your response was, “Yeah, but what about…” This was a dismissing of my views, and it is obvious from your message board post that you neither understood those views nor have you reported them correctly.
I decided to choose to listen to you. My hope was that I would be heard on some other day. Regarding your comments about my thoughts of being personally comfortable as a member of the Church, but it not necessarily being for everyone, I meant that not all people are ready for it. Not all people are ready for the commitment, rules and obligations that accompany Church membership. However, as they continue to investigate the gospel and the Church, this engagement will hopefully expand with time, involvement, and repeated episodes of being touched by the Holy Ghost. An LDS lifestyle offers such opportunities on many occasions. I would have loved to have you stay involved and I believe that with more time you would have received answers to many of your questions.
The personal improvement I get from living the gospel is only one aspect of my testimony. There are many layers and dimensions to what I know and am a witness to and I continue to learn spiritual truths with time. The knowledge that matters is the first-hand knowledge we receive from God. The constant invitation in the Church is to ask God and get your own witness. There is no compartmentalization in my gospel understanding. There are things I know and things I believe, things I hope for, and some things I don’t have answers for yet; it is a connected continuum. We worship with both knowledge and faith.
I hope in the past that I expressed understanding and compassion for your struggles. I perhaps did not do the back half of “…then [seek] to be understood” very well. I trust that these comments settle any guessing that you or others have about why I am an active member of the Church. I do know the gospel is what it claims to be. I cannot comprehend the idea that anyone would believe that a stake president would keep serving if he did not believe the gospel to be true. There is no reason anyone would give this service if he didn’t believe this is, literally, the Church of Jesus Christ. This gospel gives me a fuller life, my involvement in it feeds my soul, and it provides the way for me to worship God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
This, Tal, is my position and reality. I trust that you will now afford me the courtesy that I afforded you—to be understood.
Open Letter to Tal Bachman from Julie Keyes
April 27, 2008
I feel very frustrated that you have misquoted my husband so grossly. I know that you have misquoted him because I know my husband intimately and I know he would not make the statements you attribute to him. In your message board post you insinuated that Randy may not have been truthful with me about his feelings about Joseph Smith. You couldn’t be farther from the truth. The most important thing we have learned in our 28 years together is to be honest with each other. His only thoughts and feelings about Joseph Smith have been admiration and respect and a belief that Joseph Smith was honest and forthright with great integrity and courage.
Repeatedly, over the years, I have turned to Randy for clarification of doctrine and understanding of the scriptures and the deeper things of the gospel. He has always given me amazingly clear, insightful feedback. His understanding of the restored gospel is incredibly sound. He has shared with me several very sacred witnesses that he has received. I believe him because I know he is an honest man. We have been through too much together not to know this. We have cried together, laughed together, struggled and triumphed together. Through it all he has repeatedly, unceasingly, unflinchingly expressed his awe, respect, and reverence for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for Joseph Smith, and for the restoration. He has expressed these things in quiet ways; he does not grandstand.
As a convert to the Church at age 21 (I joined the Church a year before I met Randy) I am an independent thinker and have had some very powerful witnesses myself. I have the perspective of living my first 20 years without the gospel. The difference is quite profound. When I compare the difference between my life before joining the Church and after, it is like night and day. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ fosters deeper thinking; a broader perspective; a richer, more satisfying life; and ongoing, multiple spiritual events and experiences.
Unfortunately, in our attempts to be understood, semantics will never be enough; human language is too limited. Knowing Randy, he was just trying to empathize with your feelings. I am disappointed in you for misrepresenting my husband. You misunderstood him. I believe you have assumed too much and taken liberties with what my husband said.