Former Staff Accuse Preemptive Love Founders of Abusive Leadership | Sojourners

Former Staff Accuse Preemptive Love Founders of Abusive Leadership

Former employees at Preemptive Love Coalition, an international relief organization, have alleged that its leaders created an abusive environment. On Dec. 15, Ben Irwin, the organization’s former director of communications and public relations, wrote on Twitter and in subsequent posts to Medium, that Preemptive Love’s founders, Jeremy and Jessica Courtney, “abused, gaslit, threatened, and mistreated dozens of staff over the years.”

According to Irwin, 31 former staff members sent Preemptive Love’s board of directors a letter in August “describing the abuse [they] witnessed and experienced, especially at the hands of the Courtneys.”

In a Dec. 17 open letter, Preemptive Love’s board of directors — Michelle Fisher, Lauren Holiday, Jason “Propaganda” Petty, Seth Freeman, and Farah Siddiqui — said the board “responded to the serious allegations immediately and in earnest.”

The board had hired Guidepost Solutions to investigate the allegations. Guidepost has been the focus of other scrutiny since the Southern Baptist Executive Committe hired the firm to investigate how the denomination had handled allegations of sexual abuse.

Preemptive Love was founded by the Courtneys in 2008, and originally provided heart surgeries and cardiac scans to children in Iraq. The organization now provides emergency relief, including food and medical care, and helps refugees start businesses; they operate in areas experiencing violence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Mexico, and Venezuela according to their FAQ page. The Courtneys had previously been Christian missionaries according to Jeremy’s 2019 book Love Anyway, and Preemptive Love has maintained a close connection with Christian leaders and activists.

Irwin told Sojourners he filed a whistleblower complaint on his last day; he left Preemptive Love in July.

“My intent for the last few months has been to see what comes of the investigation. And that’s why it took me a long time before I started speaking out more actively,” Irwin told Sojourners. “I want to see some accountability and change. I gave a lot of my life to Preemptive Love. And I believe that they’ve got their hands on a really powerful vision for how the world can be — if they could only practice it internally for each other, particularly at the top.”

On the morning of Dec. 16, the day after posting his allegations, Irwin tweeted again to say that the board emailed, pressuring him to take down the posts.

Preemptive Love confirmed that board chair Michelle Fisher emailed Irwin on Dec. 16 and included the other board members in her email. Jeremy Courtney, who is on the board of directors according to Preemptive Love’s website, was not included according to a copy of the email Preemptive Love provided to Sojourners.

In the email, Fisher expresses disappointment with Irwin’s social media posts.

“Nothing has been done in secret, which is why I felt so disappointed that your post accused the Board of operating as if we are trying to hide something,” Fisher said to Irwin in the Dec. 16 email. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Fisher also said the board has commissioned two additional evaluations, one, on Irwin’s claims of misuse of funds, according to Fisher’s email, and the other an “outside-party evaluation of PLC’s compliance practices, to ensure that best practices are implemented in the handling and use of donor funds toward the organization’s charitable initiatives.”

Since Irwin’s tweets, other former staff members have tweeted their commendation of Irwin’s account.

“As a former employee, I can verify that this is an unbelievably toxic environment that causes so many people (including myself) a lot of trauma and pain,” Audrey White, a former graphic designer at Preemptive Love, tweeted.

Courtney Christenson, a former field communications editor at Preemptive Love, wrote in an open letter that the Courtneys “valued unwavering loyalty … above all else.”

In its open letter, the board wrote that they expected findings from the Guidepost Solutions’ investigation “very soon.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Dec. 17 at 4:50 p.m. EST to include information from the open letter published by Preemptive Love Campaign’s board of directors and board chair Michelle Fisher’s Dec. 16 email to Irwin.

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