After Investigation, Preemptive Love Founders ‘Will Not Be Returning’ | Sojourners

After Investigation, Preemptive Love Founders ‘Will Not Be Returning’

Headshots of Jeremy Courtney and Jessica Courtney, and the Preemptive Love logo. Screengrabs from Preemptive Love website.
Headshots of Jeremy Courtney and Jessica Courtney, and the Preemptive Love logo. Screengrabs from Preemptive Love website.

Preemptive Love Coalition’s board of directors announced on Jan. 4 that the organization’s founders, Jeremy and Jessica Courtney, would not be returning to the organization in any capacity, after an investigation into the Courtneys’ leadership.

The board, in an open letter on the Preemptive Love website, said the findings of the investigation — performed by Guidepost Solutions — were presented on Dec. 20 to the board and that the Courtneys were on the call for the presentation.

“Jeremy and Jessica Courtney will not be returning to their roles, or serving the organization in any capacity,” said the open letter. “We will have more information about this to share shortly. The Board did not disregard information received from current employees, former employees or advisors. We are grateful for all the input we received and the many who invested their time and trust to move this process along.”

In August, more than 30 former employees sent the board a letter outlining the “the abuse [they] witnessed and experienced, especially at the hands of the Courtneys.” In mid-December, Ben Irwin, the organization’s former director of communications and public relations, publicized that the founders were under investigation and made the letter from former employees accessible online. Irwin said the Courtneys had “abused, gaslit, threatened, and mistreated dozens of staff over the years.”

Irwin told Sojourners on Jan. 5 that he believes removing the Courtneys is “a step” but he wants the board to release the full findings of the investigation and “step out of damage control mode.”

“[Those] of us who’ve come forward didn’t do so because the organizational culture could use some freshening up. We did so because of years of emotional and psychological abuse, gaslighting, bullying, and threats we experienced at Preemptive Love,” Irwin wrote to Sojourners in an email. “The board doesn’t seem to be taking that seriously yet.”

According to the Jan. 4 letter annoucing the Courtneys’ departure, the board did not review specific interviews in an effort to maintain confidentiality of those who came forward. Instead, Guidepost relayed the broad themes of their findings to the board. 

“Although not every signatory on the original letter submitted to the Board felt comfortable participating in the inquiry, the investigative team was greatly encouraged by the many who did participate,” the board wrote. “They found participants to be passionate about the mission of the organization, sympathetic to complicated dynamics of our work in volatile locations and very helpful in providing facts and details needed to form conclusions and recommendations.”

Irwin told Sojourners that the board was “ill-equipped to help the organization move forward” because the board chair is Michelle Fisher, a longtime personal friend of the Courtneys. Irwin said this is a conflict of interest, and that Fisher had “appeared to interfere with the integrity of the investigation” by asking him not to publicize the investigation and by originally asking employees wishing to speak with Guidepost to go through the board. An earlier letter from the board said they changed the policy the next day, but Irwin said it was only changed after he told Guidepost that this would be a problem for employees wishing to remain anonymous.

Fisher did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Sojourners.

According to the announcement, more information about the Courtneys’ departure would be given “shortly;” Preemptive Love did not immediately reply to questions from Sojourners. Bob Smietana of Religion News Service, who first reported on the Jan. 4 letter, wrote that “the board resolved that the Courtneys would not return from their leave of absence and no longer have a role with the organization.”

Courtney Christenson, a former field communications editor at Preemptive Love, who shared her experiences at Preemptive Love in June 2020 on her Instagram and then again in December 2021 in an open letter, told Sojourners that she was shocked, relieved, and grieving in the aftermath of the board’s announcement.

“... [The] board has been so protective of Jeremy and Jessica during this whole process that this decision, and the speed with which it was made, feels like whiplash,” Christenson told Sojourners in an email. “After the shock wore off, I felt a mix of relief and grief—relief that there is accountability, grief that it was necessary.”

Christenson said she still believes the board “has not acted with transparency or in good faith with the former employees who came forward.” She agreed that the full findings of the investigation need to be released “so both their donors and the people who were hurt can understand the full picture of what happened.”

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