(Photo: Wildfire Weekend)
A Tennessee-based ministry cancelled a fundraising event featuring "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson because of the Robertson family's collaboration with a California winemaker.
Free Will Baptist Family Ministries is trying to raise money for a $1.7 million dollar school expansion project that is already underway, according to Derek Bell, the ministry's director of development. The project will add another 10,000 square feet onto the ministry's state-accredited school where at-risk youth receive an education and counseling.
"A lot of these kids come in and they are woefully behind in their grade level, and so we have to have smaller classes and much more individualized attention to help get these kids back up to speed as best we can while they're in our care," said Bell.
Family Ministries originally invited Robertson, the president of Duck Commander and an outspoken Christian, to speak at the Viking Hall Civic Center in Bristol, Tenn., in October. The date of the event was moved to April due to a scheduling conflict, but last night the group announced that the fundraiser has been cancelled.
"Our greatest responsibility is to the young people we serve," said Bell in a statement on the group's Facebook page. "Therefore, we feel that in light of the recent news that the stars of the show 'Duck Dynasty' are partnering with Trinchero Family Estates to launch Duck Commander Wines, to continue with this event would send mixed messages to the young people who go through our Adolescent Drug and Alcohol program. Our message must be consistent. The lives of those children may well hang in the balance. We certainly apologize to the people who have already purchased tickets, and pray they understand our position."
The ministry posted instructions to its Facebook page explaining how ticket holders can get a refund. Bell told CP the fundraiser could have brought in between $70,000 and $85,000, depending on whether or not the event sold out. So far the organization has raised about $700,000 for the expansion project.
Bell says he thinks the ministry would have cancelled the event simply because of its denomination's stance against the consumption of alcohol. The fact that Family Ministries runs a program for young people struggling with alcohol-related issues, he said, just made the decision a "no-brainer" for the organization.
He also said he spoke with Robertson's representatives, who told him that the reality show star was understanding about the ministry's decision.
"We think they're great people. We appreciate them bringing faith back into the mainstream on television like they have. We just hate that they've made that decision and it's caused us to have to go the direction that we're going," said Bell.
Trinchero Family Estates announced its collaboration with the Robertson family on Nov. 1.
"We decided to create Duck Commander Robertson Family wines because we know that many of our customers and our viewers choose to celebrate family moments with wine," Robertson said in a statement. "We knew we needed to find a family company in the heart of wine country that could produce authentic, quality wines. The Trinchero family is the right fit, and the wines are delicious."
The first vintage, according to a press release, will include Triple Threat 2011 Red Blend, Miss Priss 2012 Pink Moscato and Wood Duck 2012 Chardonnay.
The Robertsons have shared their Christian faith through books, conferences and interviews, as well as by praying together at the end of each episode of "Duck Dynasty." Earlier this year, the hit A&E reality show shattered cable TV records when 11.8 million people tuned in to watch the season four premiere.