Thou Shalt Not Sue

Feuding Christian-radio hosts Perry Hodges and Melanie Lashbrook are waging a legal and media war that is unforgiving

In the world of religious radio, WAFG-FM (90.3) is the voice of mighty Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a "friend of the family," the station proclaims, existing "to glorify God and to further His purposes."

"Isn't it wonderful to live in a country where Christians are freely allowed to worship, speak our minds...," station manager Dolores King tells listeners in the program guide, which lists such inspirational shows as "Genesis Connection," "Truths That Transform," and the more secular "How to Manage Your Money."

Until last month WAFG also aired a Thursday-evening, call-in program, "Women of God," hosted by Melanie Lashbrook, daughter of one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in America and one-time Coral Ridge staff member, who promised the station she would not speak her mind.

Specifically, Lashbrook agreed not to discuss another WAFG talk-show host, lawyer Perry W. Hodges, Jr., who's active on the religious right of Broward County Republican politics and counsels listeners with his Wednesday-evening hour, "Know Your Legal Rights."

Among the rights on which Hodges is expert is the right of a lawyer to sue to collect unpaid fees. For more than three years, he and Lashbrook's husband Larry have been locked in bitter combat, firing away with both law and Scripture, over the more than $24,000 owed Hodges by Larry in the aftermath of Larry's divorce from his first wife, whom Hodges represented and now employs. The assistance to his ex-wife "bugs the snot out of Larry," Hodges says with some glee. "I became Satan personified in his mind."

Last month the Lashbrook-Hodges feud drew blood inside WAFG. Station management, whether furthering His purposes or favoring Hodges, killed Melanie Lashbrook's "Women of God."

According to Lashbrook, station manager King told her that influential friends of Hodges in the church wanted Lashbrook removed, and "I can't take the pressure any more. I can't protect you from being taken off." Lashbrook also remembers being told to accept the decision, that "I should be more of a Christian and turn the other cheek. But Christians do not sue other Christians. Why not take Perry Hodges off too? If Larry really owes him the money, shouldn't it go back to Perry Hodges to turn the other cheek. That's how I feel: It's a double standard."

King would not discuss the Lashbrook issue. Hodges, while adamantly denying he had anything to do with the decision to silence Melanie, added, "There is a large contingent that goes to Coral Ridge [Presbyterian Church] that believes in doing things the right way. Larry has not done anything the right way."

For Hodges, a member of the Sheridan Hills Baptist Church in Hollywood, the path to rightness led to the Broward County Courthouse, where on December 10, a week after WAFG banished Melanie Lashbrook, Hodges foreclosed on the Lashbrook house. The Lashbrooks retaliated with a media fax attack, headlined, "CHRISTIAN ATTORNEY PETITIONS COURT TO TAKE HOME AWAY FROM FAMILY RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!"

The house, appraised at about $70,000, is tucked away among auto dealer back lots on NE Second Avenue just south of Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. It includes a rear shop for Larry Lashbrook's guitar-repair business. The house is scheduled to be auctioned at the courthouse February 3 to pay Hodges' legal fees.

As that date approaches, the Lashbrooks and the lawyer play dueling Bibles.
"Biblically, a Christian should not take another Christian to court," but instead should submit to church authorities to settle secular disputes, Lashbrook argued. She paced in their living room on New Year's Eve, in front of a Christmas tree and under a sign asking God to bless their home, as Larry reached for his Bible to find a supportive passage in I Corinthians. It begins: "Dare any of you having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?"

In response Hodges emphasized that he tried for years to abide by I Corinthians. He also suggested that if patience is a virtue it has a statute of limitations, which has run out in the Lashbrook case. "He wants me to do the 'Christian' thing and just walk away and forget the whole thing. I'm not willing to do that, not at this point."

Hodges also drew support from the Bible, noting, "There's a proverb that says the borrower becomes a slave to the lender."

Aligned with the conservative Christian faction of Broward's Republican party, Hodges has run unsuccessfully for party chairman, school board, and state legislature but has been a winner on WAFG for ten years.

On "Know Your Legal Rights," which airs Wednesdays from 9 to 10 p.m., he dispenses general legal advice in response to caller questions on such issues as wills and debt restructuring, advising one caller last week to prioritize his bill payments. "A lot of people who get in financial difficulty, it's really easy to let your house go," Hodges observed. "If you don't pay your mortgage payment, you're living under a bridge."

Whatever the lawyer's star status, Melanie Lashbrook argues that WAFG, housed in the tower of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, should not have sacrificed "Women of God" for station harmony with Hodges. After all, she is not exactly a bit player among Presbyterians.

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