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Smithfield has been chosen along with 20 other communities for a new temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In his concluding talk at the church's annual spring conference, President Russell M. Nelson revealed the sites for 20 new temples.

Among the other Western regional locations named were Helena, Montana; Casper, Wyoming; Grand Junction, Colorado; Burley, Idaho; Elko, Nevada; and Farmington, New Mexico.

“We want to bring the house of the Lord even closer to our members, that they may have the sacred privilege of attending the temple as often as their circumstances allow,” Nelson told conference listeners.

Currently, 41 temples are presently under construction or renovation. Despite the pandemic, ground was broken for 21 new temples last year, he noted.

Earlier in Sunday's conference session, Dallin Oaks, first Counselor in the church's First Presidency, declared that no single political party or individual candidate represents the church’s positions.

Oaks, a former justice on the Utah Supreme Court, told members they should decide for themselves what issues are most important and be prepared to change which party or candidate they support from election to election.

A member of a church governing panel of which Oaks is also a member was forced to apologize last month following revelations that political donations were made in his name to Democrats including President Joe Biden.

The fact that the donation from senior church leader Dieter Uchtdorf went to Democrats was somewhat surprising considering most members of the faith known widely as the Mormon church lean Republican.

“We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate,” Oaks said during one of the final sessions of the conference, an annual event that was held virtually this time for the first time in more than 70 years.

Earlier in the weekend, conference speakers declared abortion as evil and issued another plea for members to combat prejudice and racism. Church conference taking place Saturday without attendees because of the pandemic.

Lawmakers in Republican-governed Legislatures in the United States are considering an array of anti-abortion restrictions this year that they hope might reach the Supreme Court and win approval from its conservative majority, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.

Citing a speech by former church President Gordon B. Hinckley from a 1998 conference, church leader Neil Andersen said abortion is “evil, stark and real and repugnant" and pleaded with women to avoid considering it.

“Let us share our deep feelings about the sanctity of life with those who make decisions in society,” Andersen said. “They may not fully appreciate what we believe, but we pray that they will more fully understand why, for us, these decisions go well beyond just what a person wants for his or her own life.”

Andersen, a member of a top governing panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said church members should step in to help support women if an unanticipated child is coming to allow a child to be born and continue the baby's “journey in mortality.”

He also lamented that fewer children are being born around the world, even in the most prosperous countries.

That trend could be seen in new church statistics released Saturday that showed the number of new children added to church membership rolls declined for the sixth consecutive year. About 65,500 children were added to church membership in 2020 — down 47% from a modern peak reached in 2008, church figures show.

Also on Saturday, Quorum member Gary Stevenson called on church members to be welcoming to people of all faiths and ethnicities on the heels of recent attacks on Asians and following a recent reckoning over racial justice around the world.

“The Lord expects us to teach that inclusion is a positive means towards unity, and that exclusion leads to division,” Stevenson said. “We have been heartbroken to hear of recent attacks on people who are Black, Asian, Latino, or of any other group. Prejudice, racial tension, or violence should never have any place in our neighborhoods, communities, or within the church.”

He also called on young members to stop cyber-bullying, which can lead to anxiety and depression, and for adults to model “kindness, inclusion and civility.”

Stevenson's plea marked a continuation of a push in recent years by church leadership to strike a more strident tone against racism.

Fellow church leaders urged members to root out racism and make the faith an “oasis of unity" at the last church conference in October. Two months later, the church added to the faith’s handbook new language demanding members root out prejudice and racism, adding significance and permanence on one of the most sensitive topics in the church’s history.

The faith’s past ban on Black men in the lay priesthood, which stood until 1978, remains a delicate issue for members and non-members alike. The church disavowed the ban in a 2013 essay, saying it was enacted during an era of great racial divide that influenced the church’s early teachings, but it never issued a formal apology — a sore spot for some members.

Church leadership grew a bit more diverse in 2018 when it selected the first-ever Latin American and person of Asian ancestry to an all-male top governing panel. But there are still no Black men on the panel. Black members make up a tiny percentage of church membership.

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