On the “Setting the Record Straight” thread there was a comment made by MarkW that indicated that Tracy Bachman, wife of Tal Bachman, had independently corroborated Tal Bachman’s story of what was said by their ex-stake president.
MarkW said: Actually, his wife did speak publicly about this at the exmo conference. So there is corroboration from her. I don’t remember how specific or on-point it was, so we’d have to go back and review that. And while her witness would not be direct corroboration of Tal’s meeting with the SP it’d be corroboration that the SP did say the type of things in question to someone else.
Craig Paxton, in a later comment, also indicated that Tracy had corroborated Tal’s story. I appreciated the tip; I had never taken the time to listen to Tracy’s comments at the 2006 Exmormon Foundation conference. (She was a member of a panel presentation on Sunday morning, October 15, 2006.) I found her comments very interesting and very moving. Tracy is obviously a person who loves her husband, her children, and at one time loved her life in the Church. During her 30 minutes or so of describing her exodus out of Mormonism, she indicated that Tal had gone and talked to the stake president, and then she said this:
I then went to visit the stake president myself because I thought surely something went awry in Tal’s meeting, and surely the stake president really did not say that; he couldn’t have–although I did believe Tal; I totally had believed him, but I had to see for myself. (That’s my way; I have to find out the hard way.)
As tears rolled down my cheeks, I asked him about all the distortions and problems, hoping he could give me some explanation as to how Joseph Smith could be a true prophet given everything he and I both knew. He unemotionally said “I don’t really know how he could have done these things, maybe it was just magic.”
As I walked out of the office with a broken heart, I realized that all of my most sacred beliefs were just lies.
That’s it; that’s the sum total of her description of talking with the stake president. Since it is nowhere near as detailed as what Tal has been saying for years, I’m not sure that this is the “independent corroboration” that some might view it as being–but more on that in a minute.
Tracy and Tal had read a lot of books before going to talk to their stake president. (Tracy said in her comments that she had read No Man Knows My History, Mormon Enigma, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, and Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith. It was this last one that convinced Tracy, in her words, that Joseph Smith was insane.)
By both of their admissions, Tal and Tracy reached their “it ain’t true” decisions before going to their stake president in separate interviews. In other words, their minds were already made up before they went to talk to him. It is hard for anyone–let alone a stake president–to make a difference against a mind that is already made up.
But, back to the idea of whether Tracy’s comments at the Exmormon Foundation conference corroborate Tal’s story. I don’t think they do because there simply is not enough information provided by Tracy to say that what she thought she heard was really corroboration.
Many purported histories (including, I believe, Brodie and Palmer) use words like “magic,” “folk magic,” or “magik” to describe the environment in which Joseph lived. Does the fact that people in his era believed in magic or practiced magic or felt closer to the divine than we do today make Joseph any less of a prophet? No, I don’t think so. Does the recognition that “magic” may have been involved and that the stake president may have told that to Tracy mean that he believed Joseph Smith was not a prophet? No, I don’t think so.
But I surely understand how Tal and Tracy could have been shocked by what they read in those books. I was knocked on my butt when I first read Mormon Polygamy: A History by Van Wagoner. I felt adrift for some time because the picture of Joseph painted by the author was markedly different from the picture that I had in my head. Right after reading it, in August 1990, I looked up the author’s address and went to his house, then in Lehi. He graciously let me in and, after exchanging pleasantries, I asked him point blank how anyone could learn these things and maintain their testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God.
His answer? “I don’t know; everyone has to figure that out for themselves.” (He also signed my copy of his book: “Allen, best wishes in your search for the ultimate truth–that is the most rewarding pathway although not always the safest.”)
I was able to regain my footing through more study (not apologetics–just reading histories), lots of prayer, and lots of faith. It was through that study that I later learned (by going to original sources) that Van Wagoner presented a history that suffered from selection bias. This bias tended to put Joseph in a bad light, even when alternative views of the facts where possible.
So what does this have to do with Tal and Tracy and their ex-stake president? Quite a bit, actually. In Tal’s subsequent move away from the Church he has often stated that he doesn’t understand how people could learn the “facts” about the Church and Joseph Smith and still not conclude it is all a lie and a fraud. They and other critics invent “reasons” why people would stay in–it is safer, it is more comfortable, great social aspects, etc. Every reason they dream up avoids the one reason that they cannot face up to–that reasonable, intelligent people can examine the same set of facts and still conclude that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Church he founded is neither a fraud or a lie.
This, I believe, is where President Keyes was coming from. He could say that, yes, Joseph did some of these things. He could say that, yes, he understands how they may look bad. He could say that, yes, the information is disturbing. He could say that, yes, there may have been “magic” involved. But even with all that, it doesn’t change the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet, divinely called of God to do an amazing work.
Would Tal and Tracy, who had already made up their minds that the Church was a fraud, have understood what the stake president was saying? Doubtful. Instead, they heard what they wanted to hear–validation for all the “bad” stuff they had read and, unfortunately, unintended vindication for the conclusions they had reached before meeting with the stake president.
The continuing thing that Tal and other critics fail to grasp is that it is a long way from “yes, Joseph did some of those things” to “he was a fraud.” There is plenty of room in between for belief and faith, but not for those who already have their minds made up.