Human Rights

Shawn Carney on where 40 Days for Life is headed and his advice on growing leaders

On leaders, motivation, and encouragement.

On March 7, 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney spoke in Fresno, California at an educational event for Right to Life of Central California. Afterwards, we caught up with him to get his thoughts on the state of 40 Days for Life, the broader pro-life movement, and keys to developing leaders.

Live Action News: With your role leading 40 Days for Life, everyone has seen it grown in the last six years. Where is it heading?


Shawn Carney signs books after speaking in Fresno, California.

Shawn Carney: Yes, 40 Days for Life has really grown beyond what we thought it would ever do. Our intention was to do one campaign, and that led to two campaigns per year. We think 500,000 people participate.

I think the future of 40 Days for Life is something that’s gonna stay where it is as far as the local effort, something that people can take and run with and lead. We see it go now to 15 different countries. There’s a 40 Days for Life campaign right now in Moscow, Russia for the first time ever. So 40 Days for Life is not something that just came on the radar and is going away. It’s something that now is embedded in community. Some communities are on their tenth 40 Days for Life campaign. We want this to be a regular part of pro-life work – that you go out one hour, two hours a week going during a 40 Days season and are there for the women, the babies, and the workers as these abortions take place. We that have to go to where this injustice happens, and 40 Days for Life gives people an avenue to do just that.

LAN: Looking more broadly to the pro-life movement beyond just 40 Days for Life, what do you think are the things that this movement should be focused on?

SC: Well, I think, number one, one of the most exciting things recently has been the work of Live Action, exposing the reality of what’s going on inside abortion facilities. That’s something that really nobody was doing before Lila and Live Action started that. That led to defunding of Planned Parenthood. Just exposing these people for who they are and what they are doing inside the facilities. I think we also obviously need to get a huge ground game together politically. The nation is polling, you know, more than half majority of Americans are pro-life. They are not voting that way. That’s a conviction issue. It’s not just a political upheaval, where we get angry and run off; that’s a conviction issue. Our own people are not putting this issue over all other issues in the voting booth. That’s a problem, because they are polling, but they are not voting the same way as they poll.

LAN: What do you think is the key to develop leaders that you have seen and learned from within 40 Days for Life?

Shawn-Carney2SC: Give them responsibilities. Give young people responsibilities. Tonight you saw a California Right to Life group with young leaders. You know, the oldest guy in the office is 30. When young people have responsibilities given to them, they are the most pro-life of any age group, 18 to 35. They are gonna be the ones that carry the future of the movement, so when we develop leaders, we have to encourage them by giving them responsibilities. I was fortunate enough to lead a local organization when I was 23. Lila Rose was 19 or 12, or something like that, when she started Live Action, so when young people step up to the place, there are lots of challenges – you may have a lot of learning curves – but that’s how you develop leaders, and that’s just crucial. It starts by giving them responsibilities.

LAN: What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned in your leadership growth over the last 6 years?

40 Days for LifeShawn Carney: That ultimately we are not in control. That’s just an obvious life lesson that anybody over 40 would tell you. But we have to, as Saint Augustine says, work as if it depends on us, but pray as if it depends on God, because ultimately it does. We cannot control everything, but we do have to get to work, we do have to pray, because there is so much work to be done. But that the one thing that I have to learn and accept as a young leader is that we can’t control everything, and not everything is going to turn out as we plan, which is just basic common sense, but for young people we don’t always have that.

LAN: Final thoughts for the readers of Live Action News?

SC: In this movement, everybody, no matter what capacity you are doing, needs motivation. When I need motivation, I look up a Lila Rose video or something Live Action has done. It is so encouraging, and we got to see Lila at the International Summit in France. My wife, she went over, and David and his wife were there. It is so encouraging to see what Live Action is doing. It is like a shot in the arm.

I think 40 Days for Life has been there for a lot of people. Live Action has been that for me. I ran a local organization for years, and then 40 Days for Life took off, and just in the midst of that thing, Live Action exposed the abortion industry, where we have many of our vigils, some of these same clinics. It’s so encouraging, and again, that’s something when people say, “Well, you know, that kind of made a splash. I don’t think it’s going to be around.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s what abortion industry wants. They want the young movement to go away, and they need them to go away. And they show absolutely no sign of going away. So my encouragement of the last few years has been the work of Live Action.

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