I don’t believe in being clean
The Old Testament goes into great detail about the many things that can make a person unclean, and of the rituals needed to restore purity (Leviticus Chapters 5, 11, 12, 13, 15 and Deuteronomy 15 in particular). Managing ritual purity seems onerous to my modern mind, especially for women; not only is uncleanness unavoidable as the regular function of the female body, it’s also long lasting. Male “issues” also generated uncleanness, but after his “seed of copulation” goes out of him, the man (and woman, if there was one involved) is unclean only until the sun goes down. A woman was unclean during her period and 7 days afterward (Leviticus 15: 16 and 19). This amounts to half the month, and maybe a married woman is having sex a couple times a week and getting unclean from other things like swearing or touching the carcass of an unclean bug. She must have spent most of her adult life unclean. Which makes uncleanness kind of meaningless? But I digress.
When Jesus came on the scene the religious authorities were super vigilant about purity, and Jesus swept that aside again and again (Matthew 8:1-4, Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 1: 40-42, Mark 7:25-30, Luke 8:43-48). And though it seems he still cared about sin (Luke 5:18-26), he wasn’t concerned about becoming tainted by the uncleanness of others (Luke 8:43-48), or with obedience checklists (Matthew 19:16-22).
If Jesus wasn’t focused on cleanness, what did he teach instead? He taught matters of the heart (Matthew 5), and when he said his disciples should be perfect, I don’t think he meant perfectly clean, he meant something deeper–a fundamental change in human nature to become like him. The puzzling command to lose our lives for his sake, thereby saving them (Luke 9), demands a very different approach to life than Old Testament-style attention to purity.
I imagine Jesus’ most proximal disciples would have had a hard time making the switch from salvation as purity to salvation as a changed heart, though Paul made the transition fully (Romans 14, Galations 6). LDS scripture has Alma 5 to teach us about being changed, but also uses cleanliness metaphors, sometimes even in the same verse: Alma 5:19 “I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” I suppose both metaphors have merit, though I note that women disproportionately bear the cultural weight of cleanliness as the idea of purity spills over into modesty and personal comportment. I notice that LDS sermons from pulpits large and small are more often about cleanliness than about a changed heart. Our leaders equate worthiness with being clean. The trouble is, how clean is clean enough? And clean enough for what? Clean from what?
Because salvation is an abstraction, it’s impossible to think about it without using metaphor. The problem with the cleanliness metaphor is that it focuses our attention on rules, obedience, and compliance rather than on moral development and connection between each other and God. To become a new creation, to have a change of heart, these are better metaphors. What I most like about them is that change can take place on the smallest of scales, in the shortest of time frames, and are therefore possible, and real.
I believe in redemption. I believe Christ is the Redeemer. But whenever I hear or read about cleanliness and worthiness, whether in scripture, in sermon, or in song, the words bounce off my heart with a thud. There is no resonance. I think that’s because I am already worthy. There’s nothing I can do to enhance my worth, or dissolve it. Though by giving up my story over and over again each day  I believe I will find myself changed.