The confessions of the ex-Nazarene, the Rev. Thomas Starnes, now pastor of the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, relates how his Nazarene roots brought him shame that led him into "nine years of lying and bending the truth about my church connections" {Outlook, May 24}. In some strange twist, he suggests that, because of that experience, he "may be the only one in Washington who comes close to understanding Gary Hart."

His portrayal of the Church of the Nazarene is, of course, distorted by the trivia of provincialisms associated with Cowan, Tenn., and small-town Delaware. His parents may well have associated strictness with piety. However, many of the things that he mentions were never associated with either Nazarene teachings or Nazarene practices.

What then is a Nazarene? The Church of the Nazarene, formed in 1908, was a merger of several clusters of independent churches that were spawned from the Holiness Revival and camp-meeting movement. This movement was essentially led by Methodist ministers who resisted the skepticism, liberalism and coldness that was too characteristic of the various old-line denominations. Instead, they returned to the great optimism expressed in the Wesleyan Revival. Nazarenes embraced all of the great doctrines of the Methodists.

Rejecting the spiritual despair that characterized so many of the churches, they preached that a man could be born-again to a new life in Christ and that a believer could be filled by the Holy Spirit in a second work of grace that would cleanse and empower him to live a happy and holy life. Their services were filled with joy and praise. Admittedly, there were those who tried to impose rigid and unreasonable standards on others, but the call of the Church of the Nazarene was never to external standards but rather to a "heart perfected in love."

Pastor Starnes' father was only one of thousands of persons "who found the Lord and became a Nazarene." In fact, the church has more than five times the membership that it had in 1936, whereas the United Methodist Church continues a pattern of losses in membership and attendance.

Yes, it is true that Nazarenes are taught that their bodies are the gift of God and should not be abused by tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. They are taught that they are stewards of all things, and for that reason normally give at least 10 percent of their income to the support of the church. They are taught the value of home, family and personal morality and to avoid any entertainment, literature or associations that tend to undermine those values. They are taught to value the souls of every man, so they have developed missionary work in about 100 areas of the world as well as throughout the United States. My congregation reflects these values. It has grown rapidly, bringing together persons from many races, cultures and nations into a joyous fellowship.

For those who wonder, drunken fathers are still finding the Lord in Nazarene revivals. The church still unshamedly proclaims that God's grace can deliver a man from sin. Along with St. Paul we "are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto Salvation." From time to time we regretfully say farewell to a Gary Hart or a Thomas Starnes. For any pain we may have caused them, we are sorry.

I do have one suggestion. Next month 4,000 Nazarene teen-agers will gather at the University of Maryland for their Youth Congress. Maybe Starnes and Hart should stop by to hear their songs and share their joy. Perhaps Starnes and Hart will discover what it was that drew their parents into this fellowship. Perhaps they will find reason for celebration instead of shame. Perhaps they will find healing for their hurt in the fellowship of those who find real joy in pursuit of holy lives. Perhaps they will discover just what it is to be a Nazarene! -- Samuel N. Smith The writer is pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Washington.