A Church-Sponsored 'Love School' Taught Me That Money Is at the Root of Every Happy Relationship

“When you love each other, you make a good team and can make a lot of money” was among the nuggets of advice I absorbed.

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Sep 30 2014, 6:10pm

Cris and Renato, loving each other intelligently at the Love School press conference

Cris and Renato Cardoso are two glamorous TV hosts with a “bulletproof marriage” who travel the world teaching single and married people how to “love intelligently.” In London this past Sunday, no less than 11,400 people showed up to watch them present the Love School, an "interactive love seminar."

Having seen the happy couple’s faces beaming from the side of nearly every bus in town, I was intrigued. What were Cris and Renato’s credentials? What kind of people would pay money for instructions on how they should love each other? And why did I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach when I stared at their poster for too long? The only way to answer those questions, I decided, was to go to the Love School myself.

Admittedly, the Love School is not aimed at cynical young men like me, who have an inherent mistrust of self-proclaimed experts. Instead, it's aimed at believers—believers of the promise that about $75 and a few hours of speeches can save a failing marriage, believers of the fact that two people can have universally applicable relationship advice, believers of love being something more than a cultural construct. Still, I couldn’t help feeling slightly creeped out as I entered the event.

The press conference held beforehand was tightly controlled. I was required to submit questions a week in advance and the press were discouraged from speaking to attendees. Instead, the organizers had hand-picked a few success stories for us to interview. 

There was one member of the press group who I'd assumed was there to ask questions like the rest of us. Instead, she spent all of her face time hurling compliments at the happy couple before clapping maniacally at everything they had to say. I didn't catch which publication she worked for. She also asked someone from the Observer if they were married or not, but I'm not really sure what to make of that.

The author speaking to one of the Love School's "success story" couples

It might seem lazy to say Cris and Renato have a bit of a cult vibe going on with their Love School, but it's accurate. Renato is a bishop in a controversial religious organization called the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The UCKG preaches prosperity theology, which says that devotion to God will be rewarded with material wealth. The church's founder is a Brazilian billionaire named Edir Macedo, who, over the course of his career, has been investigated for money laundering, fraud, and embezzling church funds. In 1992, he was jailed for charlatanism, which, I admit, must look great on a resume.

Macedo has dubbed himself "the Bishop." He owns a media conglomerate and, as of last year, a bank. Can you guess who the Bishop’s daughter is? That’s right—shiny, happy love guru Cris.

The church sponsored the Love School, but its influence was played down. In the press conference, for instance, the couple said it wasn't necessary to follow the teachings of their church to benefit from their lessons. However, nearly everyone I spoke to at the event was a member of UCKG, or had at least visited the church before coming to the Love School. Towards the end of the event, shortly before we were asked to pray, Renato strongly recommended that everyone attend something called a "root seminar," a five-week course run by the church.

The importance the church places on money was also evident in the talk. Nearly every element of the three-hour sermon related to money in one way or another. Renato stressed several times that marriage is the best indicator of financial success. At one point, he said: “When you love each other, you make a good team and can make a lot of money.” He said, by buying a ticket, people had “invested” wisely in their relationship.

Just before the intermission, the link between the church and the Love School was made crystal clear. Renato directed people to an envelope in their goody bags (which were full of advertisements for UCKG events) and asked that people donate “five or ten pounds” to the UCKG Help Center.

When I spoke to a church member during the intermission, she said: “I do think it’s strange to ask for a donation, because people have already paid for a ticket.” She went on to say, “The thing with the church is that everything comes back to money.”

Some props brought out to illustrate a point about women being better if they don't have sex 

It was also in financial terms that Renato exposed his questionable attitude towards women’s rights. When stressing the importance of women remaining chaste—or, in his words, “keeping it tight”—he used a charming analogy: “A man won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free.” To illustrate the point, he had a large cow wheeled on stage, which remained there for the rest of the event.

Renato also spoke with authority about bitter mothers brainwashing their daughters to hate men, and about the unintended consequences of the women’s rights movement.

There was a bizarre moment when he stood on a box and did a lengthy impression of a woman demanding that she be allowed to cook for her husband, but then wanting to go to a restaurant, but then being determined to pay… or something. I struggled to follow this bit because I was distracted by the shrill female voice he put on. I thought this was a bit undignified for a churchman, but the crowd fucking loved it. He even got a round of applause.

If you’ve noticed that most of my quotes came from Renato, that’s because Cris barely spoke during the event. She didn’t even open her mouth until 30 minutes into the talk. When she did speak, her husband would often say, “In other words,” before going on to say something quite different. If this event taught me anything, it was both how to mansplain and how not to use props.

An incredibly well thought out diagram demonstrating how you're at your most attractive between the ages of 22 and 37

The pearls of wisdom that weren’t sexist or related to finance were either obvious or useless. “Looks aren’t everything” was a big one. This was illustrated with a graph showing how people reach their peak attractiveness between 22 and 37. I'm not exactly sure what kind of research went into it, but I'm pretty certain they didn't just make a graph in Excel and project it onto the wall because that would be insane.

At one point we were told: “Sometimes we love someone so much we just want to turn them into us.” Which just plainly isn’t true. 

And the text on the front of the goody bags read, “Starve your emotions and your love life will thank you for it.” Which is objectively terrible advice and also doesn’t really make any sense.

Despite all this, people seemed to have been genuinely moved by the Love School. I heard audience members describe it as “inspirational” and “educational.” Some people, including Cris, teared up during the concluding prayer. For that reason I was reluctant to judge the teachers and their pupils.

But then at the end of the event, a selection of biblical quotes was projected onto the back of the stage. One of which was: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” I'm not sure why they decided to include that particular quote, as it instantly brought to mind Cris’s billionaire father, his exploitative church, and Cris and Renato’s shameless request for donations. In any case, it was a lot harder not to make the judgements I'd just stopped myself from making. 

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