A year and a half ago, homeschooling mother Susan Lawrence of Arlington, Mass. was shocked to see an advertisement for a child discipline tool called "The Rod" in a Christian homeschooling magazine. She launched a nationwide effort to get the product declared unsafe by the government. Though that effort has not yet come to fruition, the product's manufacturer says that it is no longer being made. Lawrence spoke to Beliefnet about why she believes spanking children is unchristian, what the Bible does--and doesn't--say on the subject.

Why did you decide to homeschool your kids?
I really believe a parent is a child's first teacher. I looked into homeschooling, and found that all the research does point to homeschooled children doing much better academically than both private and public schoolchildren, in general, and also doing better socially. The child gets all this one-on-one attention. Things are geared toward their levels and their interests.

You've said you believe that spanking children is unchristian. Why?
Yes, I do. It's against the Golden Rule, that's the number one rule that Jesus gave us for human relationships. You're supposed to treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself. And of course we don't want to be hit in any way, so we shouldn't hit other people. And of course, children are people. It's obvious that we shouldn't do that to children.

The Rod was advertised in a magazine for homeschoolers. Was it a Christian homeschooling magazine?
It's a very fundamentalist magazine called Home School Digest. [Note: Wisdom's Gate, the publisher of Home School Digest, declined to be interviewed or to confirm whether The Rod is still an advertiser.]

Do you think that homeschooling parents spank more or less than parents who send their children out to school?
The homeschooling scene is very split. About half homeschool for religious reasons, and they are generally fundamentalists. And the other half is like me, I consider myself a mainstream Christian, and I do it for the benefit of the child. I believe in letting the child pursue their interests and have a lot of freedom, and so people in my camp generally are against corporal punishment of children. In the other camp they are generally for it because they take every verse of the Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, everything, literally.

Where does the phrase "spare the rod, spoil the child" come from? Is it biblical?
The phrase "spare the rod, spoil the child" is actually from a burlesque poem from the 1600s by Samuel Butler, and it's actually about sex. The whole phrase goes like this: "Love is a boy by poets styled/Then spare the rod and spoil the child." It's a love poem, well, "love," between a fat man and a widow, and this is hardly a good source for parenting advice.

Why do you think it's referenced as if it's a biblical quote?
There are about five verses in Proverbs that do speak of beating your son with a rod, and also in Proverbs they speak of beating fools on the back, and that kind of thing. There's a lot of punishment in the Old Testament. If you read the whole thing, there are floggings and stonings and all kinds of harsh punishments.

Let's talk about Proverbs 23:13: "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod he will not die. Beat him with a rod and you will save him from the grave." How do you interpret that verse?
It's a lie, because children who are beaten with a rod sometimes do die. Between one and two thousand children die every year in this country from corporal punishment. One hundred forty-two thousand are seriously injured from corporal punishment every year in America, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the New England Journal of Medicine. So it can't be taken literally.

Also, Proverbs is ascribed to King Solomon. It's right in the Bible, right in the Book of Kings in the Old Testament, that Solomon displeased God. In the New Testament, Jesus says in chapter 12 of Matthew, that Jesus is greater than Solomon. And I think a lot of fundamentalists just gloss right over that. And also in Matthew, in the transfiguration, God says, "This is my son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." God never says listen to Solomon.

Proverbs 23:13 is one of the verses that The Rod ad cited. Do you think they were wrong to cite that verse in marketing this product?
I think they're wrong for marketing the product. They can read the Bible as much as they want, and I encourage people to do so, but marketing a product to beat children [with] is just outrageous. Ninety-nine percent of the people I've told about this are shocked that this is even legal.

The Rod, it seems, is no longer on the market.
Well, that's not certain. The only thing that we have definitely heard is that the maker of The Rod, Mr. Clyde Bullock, has said to Patricia Wen, the reporter at The Boston Globe, that he's thinking of closing down, that maybe it's time to stop, but he hasn't made any clear commitment, and maybe he's just scared, we don't know. [Note: Beliefnet contacted Clyde Bullock, whose company, Slide's Manufacturing Company, makes The Rod. Though he declined to be interviewed, Bullock said that he stopped production of The Rod "several months ago."]