But according to Borg, "[i]n the message and activity of Jesus, we see an alternative social vision: a community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos and politics of compassion." Jesus presented a different concept of purity, one in which inner purity was to be more valued than purity on the outside: "There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." Both the teachings of Jesus and his activities were a "challenge to the purity system." He healed lepers and hemorrhaging women and ate meals with tax collectors and sinners. For Jesus, compassion always trumped purity.
In a section of the chapter entitled Spirit, Compassion, and Us, Borg says the following:
The intra-Jewish battle between Jesus and the advocates of the purity system can be seen as a battle over two different ways to interpret Scripture. Both he and his critics stood in the tradition of Israel and sought to be faithful to it. The elites of his day read Scripture in accordance with the paradigm of holiness as purity. Jesus read it in accordance with the paradigm of compassion. Each provided a lens through which the tradition was seen. It was thus a hermeneutical battle, a conflict between two very different ways of interpreting the sacred traditions of Judaism. It was not, of course, the kind of academic hermeneutical argument that occurs today in scholarly circles. Rather it was a hermeneutical battle about the shape of a world, and the stakes were high.
The same hermeneutical struggle goes on in the church today. In parts of the church there are groups that emphasize holiness and purity as the Christian way of life, and they draw their own sharp boundaries between the righteous and sinners. It is a sad irony that these groups, many of which are seeking very earnestly to be faithful to Scripture, end up emphasizing those parts of Scripture that Jesus himself challenged and opposed. An interpretation of Scripture faithful to Jesus and the early Christian movement sees the Bible through the lens of compassion, not purity.
To use a specific example, I am convinced that much of the strongly negative attitude toward homosexuality on the part of some Christians has arisen because, in addition to whatever non-religious homophobic reasons may be involved, homosexuality is seen (often unconsciously) as a purity issue. For these Christians, there's something "dirty" about it, boundaries are being crossed, things are being put together that do not belong together, and so forth. Indeed, homosexuality was a purity issue in ancient Judaism. The prohibition against it is found in the purity laws of the book of Leviticus.
It seems to me that the shattering of purity boundaries by both Jesus and Paul should also apply to the purity code's perception of homosexuality. Homosexual behavior should therefore be evaluated by the same criteria as heterosexual behavior. It also seems to me that the passage in which Paul negates the other central polarities of his world ["In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female."] also means "In Christ there is neither straight nor gay." Granted, Paul didn't say that, but the logic of "life in the Spirit" and the ethos of compassion imply it.
One can only pray for the coming of the day on which the Catholic hierarchy chooses the ethos of compassion over what Marcus Borg calls "a purity system constituted by external boundaries." One does of course assume - compassionately - that Church attitudes toward and teachings on homosexuality do not involve "non-religious homophobic reasons" for such attitudes and teachings.