"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
-11th Article of Faith, Joseph Smith Jr.
"And to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
"I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes."
In giving such a public admission of what many members may consider an uncomfortable fact, Elder Uhtdorf follows a long line of conscientious Church leaders who also called on the members to recognize and bear with the humanity of Church leaders. This admission of human error opens the door to questions. We may not always agree, and that's okay, but hopefully we can continue to get along and feel a welcome part of the community, and enjoy the blessings the gospel still has to offer.
Now, before we dive in, for the sake of candor I should say, it is true that many LDS leaders have strongly discouraged members from questioning the counsel of the general authorities - saying things like "When the prophet speaks, the debate is over." And it is probably true that most Mormons believe it is a requirement of our faith to accept Church doctrine (which is difficult to define since we are in some sense non-creedal).
That being said, with little or no commentary, this post will highlight the voices of top LDS leaders who have encouraged the Saints to question without fear.
(If you can think of any additional quotes along these lines I invite you to share them and I will try to add them to this little collection.)
Joseph Smith Jr:
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft. …
“… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”
“I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints … are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.”
-Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 22.
"Elder Pelatiah Brown, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, and whom I now see before me... was hauled up for trial before the High Council.
"I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine."
-History of the Church, Vol. 5, Ch. 17, p. 340
"What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually."
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 150, 12 January 1862
“We are all liable to error; are subject, more or less, to the errors incident to the human family. We would be pleased to get along without these errors, and many may think that a man in my standing ought to be perfect; no such thing.”
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 10:212
The Millenial Star (A Church Newspaper):
"Because of...the apparent imperfections of men on whom God confers authority, the question is sometimes asked,—to what extent is obedience to those who hold the priesthood required? This is a very important question, and one which should be understood by all Saints. In attempting to answer this question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do any thing they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God, who seeks for the redemption of his fellows, would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty (!) authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions.
"When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong; or else because they have done wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with, lest it should be discovered by their superiors, who would require an atonement at their hands."
-"Priesthood," Millennial Star 14/38 (13 November 1852), 594–95; italics in the original
Charles W. Penrose:
“We respect and venerate” (the prophet), but “we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God.”
-Elder Charles W. Penrose, Millennial Star, 54:191
James E. Talmage:
"The same principle applies to persons and to the Church as a whole today. God has not established His Church to make of its members irresponsible automatons, nor to exact from them blind obedience. Albeit, blessed is the man who, while unable to fathom or comprehend in full the Divine purpose underlying commandment and law, has such faith as to obey. So did Adam in offering sacrifice, yet, when questioned as to the significance of his service, he answered with faith and assurance worthy the patriarch of the race: 'I know not, save the Lord commanded me.'"
-James E. Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, p. 42.
George Albert Smith:
In June 1945, the following statement was made in an article of the Improvement Era (as well as many other things along these lines):
"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy."
A Unitarian minister in Salt Lake City expressed his concerns about this quote to President George Albert Smith. You can read the full Improvement Era article and the minister's letter here:
President George Albert Smith responded to the minister by completely denouncing the statement from the Improvement Era (I quote his entire response below):
I have read with interest and deep concern your letter of November 16, 1945, in which you make special comment on “a short religious editorial prepared by one of your (our) leaders entitled “Sustaining the General Authorities of the Church’”. You say that you read the message with amazement, and that you have since been disturbed because of its effect upon members of the Church.
I am gratified with the spirit of friendliness that pervades your letter, and thank you for having taken the time to write to me.
The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.
I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoteddoes not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.
The Prophet Joseph Smith once said: “I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please.” This liberty he and his successors in the leadership of the Church have granted to every other member thereof.
On one occasion in answer to the question by a prominent visitor how he governed his people, the Prophet answered: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
Again, as recorded in the History of the Church (Volume 5, page 498  Joseph Smith said further: “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.”
I cite these few quotations, from many that might be given, merely to confirm your good and true opinion that the Church gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.
In the advocacy of this principle leaders of the Church not only join congregations in singing but quote frequently the following:
“Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be,
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heaven.”
Again I thank you for your manifest friendliness and for your expressed willingness to cooperate in every way to establish good will and harmony among the people with whom we are jointly laboring to bring brotherhood and tolerance.
Henry J. Eyering:
“The Lord uses imperfect people…He often allows their errors to stand uncorrected. He may have a purpose in doing so, such as to teach us that religious truth comes forth “line upon line, precept upon precept” in a process of sifting and winnowing similar to the one I know so well in science.”
-Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist, p. 47
J. Reuben Clark:
"If we have truth, (it) cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not truth, it ought to be harmed."
J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years, BYU Press
“Even the President of the Church has not always spoken under the direction of the Holy Ghost.”
-Elder J. Reuben Clark, quoted in Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History, p. 82
Joseph Fielding Smith:
From Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 2, p. 115
"To what extent should the laymen of the Church accept as the absolute truth the statements which church authorities make in their books and sermons? Some members state that they are of no value only when quoted verbatim from the Standard Works. If this is so, where can we turn for guidance and detailed instruction about the finer points of our doctrines?"
His answer was, in part, as follows:
"First it is in order to say that there should be no "laymen" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If there are any such, then they have neglected their responsibilities and obligations which the Lord has placed upon them. The Lord has restored his gospel and his priesthood, and it is the duty of every male member of the Church to know the truth, for each is entitled to the guidance of the Holy Ghost if he is faithful...
"The Lord has given us the four Standards which lie at the foundation of our faith. Each member of the Church should be so well versed that he, or she, would be able to discern whether or not any doctrine taught conforms to the revealed word of the Lord. Moreover, the members of the Church are entitled, if they are fully keeping the commandments and covenants the Lord has given us, to have the spirit of discernment. The fact remains, however, that too many of the members have not taken advantage of their blessings and obligations, and therefore they are unable to distinguish between truth and error. The "lay" members of the Church are under obligation to accept the teachings of the authorities, unless they can discover in them some conflict with the revelations and commandments the Lord has given. There are times when the leading brethren have expressed their own opinions on various subjects. This they have a perfect right to do. They have divided on political questions; some belong to one political party and others to another. This they have a perfect right to do, but when the Lord has spoken through his servant who holds the keys, there should be unity among the members of the Church."
Hugh B. Brown:
“I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent—if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. [...] And while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile.”
“Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences…We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity.”
(The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown: An Abundant Life, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1988, pg. 135-140; emphasis added)
George Q. Cannon:
“The First Presidency cannot claim, individually or collectively, infallibility.”
George Q. Cannon Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, 1957, 1:206
Spencer W. Kimball:
“I make no claim of infallibility.”
-Spencer W. Kimball, Improvement Era, June 1970, p. 93
Bruce R. McConkie:
“Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”
“Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices, and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal principles.”
Elder Ronald Poelman, 1984 General Conference
John A. Widtsoe:
“We set up assumptions, based on our best knowledge, but can go no further. We should remember that when inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation.”
Elder John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 127
Neal A. Maxwell:
"The Church does not desire blind obedience; rather, that we see things with the eye of faith. (Ether 12:19.) Elder John A. Widtsoe observed: 'The doctrine of the Church cannot be fully understood unless it is tested by mind and feelings, by intellect and emotions, by every power of the investigator.... There is no place in the Church for blind adherence.' Besides, real obedience is not blind. It reflects the reassurances of previous tutoring experiences from the Lord, inducing us to trust Him and His prophets, again and again. Our love of God is binding, not blinding, love. Being established connotes a continuum in our relationship with God and His prophets. President Brigham Young put it bluntly: 'I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way.' Those who are grounded, rooted, and established will not withhold their supportive influence from Church leaders. Neither will the faithful be deceived, as President Brigham Young promised: 'I will say to my brethren and sisters, Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duties of his or her calling according to the Priesthood and capacity bestowed upon you, you would be filled with the Holy Ghost, and it would be as impossible for any man to deceive and lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat.' Elder Boyd K. Packer said in a sermon on self-reliance that as we solve our own problems, we must do it 'in the Lord's own way'; 'If we are not careful, we can lose the power of individual revelation.... Spiritual independence and self-reliance is a sustaining power in the Church. If we rob the members of that, how can they get revelation for themselves? How will they know there is a prophet of God? How can they get answers to prayers? How can they know for sure for themselves?' When we approach our problems in His way, we are guided by His Spirit. Being settled in our discipleship, therefore, requires the successful utilization of the Holy Spirit as our guide both in our decision and as our comforter. We will need guidance in using our agency, but also deep comfort in coping with the disappointments of the day and in the seasonal sorrows of life.
-Neal A. Maxwell, We Will Prove Them Herewith, pp. 21–22.
James E. Faust:
“We make no claim of infallibility or perfection in the prophets, seers, and revelators.”
-James E. Faust, Ensign, November 1989, p. 11
Dallin H. Oaks:
"As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There exceptions to some rules. ... But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Official Newsroom:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established. ...
"Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent."