LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley visited with Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings on Monday and later spoke to thousands of Latter-day Saints in an outdoor gathering in Independence Square.
The church's growth in western Africa may soon lead to building a temple in the area, President Hinckley said.Monday's meetings came during the second stop of a five-country African tour that began Saturday in Nigeria for President Hinckley and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.
President Hinckley's stay in Ghana was scheduled to end Monday evening with national television and radio interviews at his hotel.
"I've been here before," President Hinckley said, referring to a trip he made five years ago as a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"The streets are getting wider and the traffic is getting worse," he said. Earlier, he had made a reference to I-15 traffic in Utah.
Rawlings seemed to appreciate the humor in the remark, calling the traffic an adverse effect of progress.
President Hinckley promised the Ghanaian leader that LDS Ghanaians are peaceful people who are good citizens and support their government. Church membership in Ghana, a nation slightly larger than Utah, approaches 16,000. Ghana has a population of approximately 18 million.
Rawlings acknowledged the contributions of LDS Church members in Ghana.
He also talked about the role of religion in building people's lives, but he cautioned about its divisive effect when used as a tool to divide people and their government.
"It is difficult to excuse those who act out in the name of God," Rawlings said.
The meeting between presidents was an important step in resolving a problem between the church and the government dating back to 1989. On June 14 of that year the government of Ghana revoked the church's charter.
Foreign missionaries were expelled, church buildings were locked and guarded by police, and two church members spent several days in jail because of the action. Latter-day Saints could meet only in the privacy of their own homes.The suspension was lifted Dec. 1, 1990, but lingering effect has slowed the development of the church's relationship with the government. Accra Stake President Emmanuel Ohene Obare said unfounded suspicion that church members were working against the state led to the ban on church activities.
"Please be assured of our love and our prayers and our common interests," President Hinckley said.
"I must take back some of the conflicting signals. That's past. That's behind us," Rawlings said.
The Ghanaian president also urged President Hinckley to use his influence to stop the threat of violence by the United States against Iraq.
The church leader said he too hopes fighting in Iraq can be avoided and that the "serious threat to the entire world" that chemical weapons pose can be resolved.
President Hinckley told Rawlings that Ghana "is in good hands."
"I appreciate that the nation couldn't be said to be in good hands without the help of the good Lord," Rawlings replied.
Local church leaders reserved Independence Square, a huge outdoor gathering place, in an anticipation of crowds of 10,000 or more for Monday's meeting with President Hinckley and Elder Holland. A similar meeting Sunday in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, attracted 12,400 people.