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Canadian couple influences major moral issues -- quietly plugging the dike of pornography

In a world where pornography and godlessness wash against the base of society's values, Bruce and Dolina Smith of Scarborough, Ontario, are "plugging the dike."

"They are charismatic people," said Donna Smart, former public affairs missionary who served with her husband, William B., in Toronto, from 1993-94."But more important," she added, "they are very informed, very outgoing, very trusted people who are in a position to have tremendous influence over the changing of attitudes."

"They work as a team, both supportive of each other," said Brother Smart. "They are people of initiative who get involved."

Brother and Sister Smith live in a suburb of Toronto. Both are native Canadians and former school teachers who joined the Church as young adults.

Through the years, Sister Smith has distinguished herself as one of the most informed people in Canada on the implications of pornography. She now heads a nationwide group called Canadians for Decency and works with other groups to raise awareness of pornography's harmful effects.

Brother Smith, meanwhile, is completing his first year as chairman of the steering committee of Canada's multi-faith channel, Vision TV, a major network reaching 75 percent of Canadian homes.

"I've always been offended by pornography," Sister Smith said.

"I remember one day many years ago when our children were small, I was walking into a convenience store with one of our children in a stroller. We stopped at a gumball machine in front of the store, and next to the machine was a pornographic magazine in a vending rack at the child's eye level.

"I wrote to the store and told them I would never shop there again until the magazine rack was removed," she said. A vice president of the convenience store called her a short time later and asked her to reconsider.

"I haven't been back to shop

thereT in 30 years," she said.

After her family was reared, she attended a general meeting of the group Canadians for Decency. She sat quietly during the meeting, then walked up to the head table afterward and volunteered.

"I discovered it was a small group which was glad for the help," she said. "Most work is done out of our homes, but with a large influence."

Canadians for Decency is an umbrella group composed of people from many walks of life and religious denominations. The group coordinates with social, religious, national and cultural groups to influence ordinary citizens and political leaders on matters of pornography.

"If the Lord only relied on LDS members, not all social issues would be dealt with effectively," she added. "As Church members, we shun pornography and pay no attention to it. In the process of turning our backs, we allow it to grow and spread unchecked."

In 1991, a year after volunteering, Sister Smith was selected as president and, since then, has been sought out by the media as an expert on pornographic issues.

"Being under fire from cameras and microphones sure gets the adrenalin flowing," she said, describing the drama one day as she walked out of a courtroom after being questioned about a child pornography issue.

"It's unnerving to be under the pressure of the press," she said. "You must know the facts. They'll shoot you down if you don't."

It's only a volunteer position, but work of the group consumes much of her day. There are phone calls to answer, letters to be reviewed, newsletters to be written, speaking engagements to be met and donations to be raised.

"I don't believe she has ever offended anyone," said Margaret McGroarty, a friend who serves on the group from the Catholic Church."Even with spur-of-the-moment interviews, she's inspired. She manages to say the right thing. She's a person of substance, of presence, a good listener and speaker. Straightforward, but not caustic.

"Her effectiveness," she continued, "does not lie in being loud or demanding, but rather being quietly deliberate. I truly believe she is gifted. And if she quotes a figure, you can be sure it's accurate."

The war this group wages on pornography is funded by a budget much more meager than the money of the entertainment industry. Still, their united voices are being heard by government leaders - sometimes in the form of white ribbons during White Ribbons Against Pornography Week. Their unflagging efforts have made significant gains, including legislation against child pornography.

"Pornography isn't as blatant as it was," Sister Smith said, recounting the group's influence on the Ontario Film Review Board after learning that movie guidelines for sex and violence were to be liberalized.

"When we received a tip from the police pornography squad about the change, we sent out letters calling for action and urging members to voice their disapproval with board members."

As a result, the review board opted to maintain the standards.

"A ground swell of local citizens makes the difference," Sister Smith said. "You can't be a Lone Ranger in this movement. It takes many voices. We just provide the vehicle. Many small battles are won by individuals. Larger battles are won when we unite our efforts and our energies."

Pornography is relentless. One particularly unsettling figure for Sister Smith is that "adult video stores outnumber McDonald's restaurants 3 to 1."

"Sex has become a spectator sport," she said during a World Affairs Conference at Upper Canada College last February. "Our silence has helped create the problem. Silence gives approval.

"Our young people have no other time in history to compare to," Sister Smith said. "They are growing up in a pornographic society, in their music, language, movies, literature. There are changing attitudes toward intimacy.

"Our youth are being flooded, while adults don't want to know, leaving the youth vulnerable. I don't want anybody to look at pornographic material, but I want them to know the harmful effects, so they can speak out against the producers of today's culture who attack Christ and His commandments."

While Sister Smith is raising a calm and well-articulated voice against pornography, Brother Smith is lending a steady hand in matters of religious programming on a network serving one of the most multi-cultural communities in the world.

"As chairman, Bruce plays the most significant role on the most significant committee of the network," said Richard Landau, executive director of Mosiac programming of Vision TV.

Brother Smith's participation on the board of directors stems from his interest in public affairs as a regional representative. In 1994, the Church began funding a half-hour monthly program on Vision TV.

Through this programming, "the Church developed a working relationship with Vision TV executives," said Brother Smart, who served as liaison with the network as a public affairs missionary.

During his calling as regional representative, Brother Smith demonstrated "a vision of public affairs that few leaders have," explained Brother Smart. "Under his leadership, we were able to do much."

When a position opened on the board, the network followed the encouragement of Brother Smart and appointed Brother Smith.

A year later, Brother Smith was nominated and elected as chairman of the committee by his peers who represented the many Christian and non-Christian faiths comprising the board.

Brother Smith directs a committee that is composed of representatives from 16 Canadian and world religions, with all the diversity of opinion and purpose that comes with divergent cultures. "There is a dignity about him that he brings to the chairmanship," Mr. Landau said.

"This board is one of the few places in the world where a working body of many different world religions assemble to work together," he said. "He was selected for his fairness and ability to navigate the committee through difficult issues."

For some of the world's religions, political issues are intrinsic to their faith, including struggles to achieve independence from oppressive regimes.

Major issues during the past year have dealt with drawing the fine line between political freedom and religious freedom in broadcast content.

"Bruce was a steadying hand in balancing the freedom to express religious beliefs without carrying it into the political issues of their homeland, which are potentially inflammatory," Mr. Landau explained.

"Brother and Sister Smith are delightful people, faithful as can be and mature in the gospel," said Roger Boyer, former president of the Canada Toronto East Mission. "They befriend everyone . . . people others can relate with. They are quiet in some ways - not flag burners - but are very articulate in defense of the Church."