The Southern Baptist Convention yesterday launched a long-threatened boycott of the Walt Disney Co., pitting the largest Protestant denomination in the country against the vast entertainment empire in a test of national values.

The Baptist church body, which has more than 15 million members, joined three smaller denominations and several conservative Christian political groups in a growing campaign against what they see as Disney's acceptance of homosexuality in its employment practices and its entertainment products.

The anti-Disney resolution passed at the Baptists' Dallas convention with an overwhelming show of hands among the 12,000 delegates. The boycott urges "every Southern Baptist to take the stewardship of their time, money and resources so seriously that they refrain from patronizing The Disney Co. and any of its related entities."

Antagonism toward Disney has been growing among conservative Christians in recent years, with peaks following the release of the films "Priest," about a homosexual Catholic clergyman, and "Kids," which presented a neutral, even condoning, view of promiscuous teenage sex.

In yesterday's debate, Baptists seemed especially offended by the celebration of Ellen DeGeneres' lesbianism on the ABC-TV sitcom "Ellen," the annual Gay Days festival at Disney World, and Disney's extension of health benefits to partners of homosexual employees. Disney owns both ABC and the company that produces "Ellen."

Conservative Christian groups welcomed the boycott. "We applaud it and will help get the word out through our radio and magazine vehicles," said Paul Hetrick, vice president of Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based radio advice program and publisher, which boasts a mailing list of 4 million households.

"It doesn't mean people are going to go home and burn their tapes," said Tim Wildmon, vice president of the American Family Association, which has led the campaign for a Disney boycott for nearly two years. "It's from this day forward that we're asking people not to go buy Hunchback of Notre Dame' . . . because that's giving {Disney} money to go produce Ellen.' "

Disney stock fell $1.50 to $82.50 per share on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday. News of the boycott may have contributed to the decline, analysts said, but a general sell-off appears to have played a larger role. Disney stock has risen 19-fold since Michael Eisner took over as chief executive in 1984.

"The only thing the Southern Baptists are after is a little more power and a little more publicity," said Dennis McAlpine, entertainment analyst with Josephthal, Lyon & Ross, a New York investment company. "Do you think these people are really prepared not to go to the movies, not to watch television, not to read comic books? Disney is pretty much everywhere." Despite problems with its ABC television network, Disney is doing well; it had revenue of $18.7 billion and a profit of $1.2 billion during fiscal 1996.

The company had little to say about the boycott yesterday. "We just aren't going to discuss any of this," said Disney spokesman Ken Green, who offered to fax a corporate statement, then added proudly, "It doesn't go into the issues at all."

Anti-Disney sentiment has been spreading steadily among social conservatives. In addition to the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God and the Presbyterian Church in America -- the conservative branch of that mainline denomination -- have endorsed the boycott.

The Southern Baptists last year threatened an anti-Disney boycott but decided to give the company a year to change its ways; the Baptists said they received no response from Disney.

"You've got two totally different cultures here, one Christian and one corporate," said Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, which monitors Hollywood's output and lobbies entertainment companies to produce more family fare. "If Disney is under the misapprehension that this is only going to be a fly in their ointment, they are making a big mistake. But if the Southern Baptists believe the average Baptist around the country is going to give up Disney tomorrow, that's also a mistake."

Disney's products are nearly ubiquitous. The company does substantial business with some of the nation's largest marketers, including Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Toys R Us -- the latter two of which are working with Disney to push merchandise associated with "Hercules," Disney's summer animated film.

Advocates of the boycott won standing ovations at the Dallas meeting, particularly when they noted the rapidly increasing concentration of ownership in the nation's media businesses. In addition to its theme parks and animated movies, Disney owns the Anaheim Angels baseball team and Mighty Ducks hockey franchise, ABC-TV and radio, the ESPN and E! cable channels, Miramax films ("Scream," "Pulp Fiction," "The English Patient"), the Hyperion book label, trade magazines and retail stores.

A few Baptist pastors objected to the decision. "In typical Baptist fashion, I'm afraid we have reacted to an extreme by positioning ourselves at another extreme," said the Rev. Rick Markham, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga. "And in doing so, messengers, we are throwing out the baby with the bath water."

Virtually since its inception, Disney has attracted critics from every corner of society -- academics who argue that its buffed version of classic stories remove the edges children need to develop active intellects, conservatives who believe the company is in bed with Hollywood liberals, and liberals who accuse Disney of cozying up to a narrow middle-American mind-set.

Various shareholders challenged managers at the company's annual meeting earlier this year over issues including film violence, "Ellen's" coming-out, and allegations that workers who make Disney-licensed products labor under sweatshop conditions.

On the touchy issue of homosexuality, the company is taking hits from both sides.

Disney was among the last major entertainment companies to adopt benefits for domestic partners, and Disney has disavowed any responsibility for Gay Days, which is organized by a New Jersey homosexual activist and drew about 60,000 participants earlier this month.

Yet Christian activists have distributed Disney internal memos that appear to show the company planning for the annual event and reports in gay newspapers in which organizers say that Disney officials have been "exceptionally helpful" in preparing the gathering.

"Disney continues to spiral downward in the eyes of many Americans because of the company's support of the homosexual agenda," said Wildmon. "Much of what they do goes against the family. Certainly homosexuals are Americans, too, but we shouldn't hold up as natural and good something that's not."

Wildmon's group has published "fact sheets" about Disney that describe what it calls phallic symbols in "The Little Mermaid" and quote Disney Chairman Eisner as saying about 40 percent of the company's 63,000 employees are homosexual. A company spokesman said Disney has no way of knowing the sexual preferences of its workers.

Gay leaders criticized the boycott and predicted that it would fail. Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a television interview that "they can keep their children from Disneyland and Disney World, but they can't keep Disney characters from the hearts and minds of their children. Characters like Dumbo, Pinocchio and Tigger have taught us that there is a welcoming family for every child."

Some gay activist groups argue that Disney movies, far from advancing the cause of gay rights, sometimes present denigrating stereotypes of homosexuals. Last week, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) criticized a current Disney Touchstone release, "Con Air," for featuring "a gratuitous and hackneyed stereotypical gay hairdresser."

Both conservative and homosexual groups have developed extensive grass-roots efforts and Hollywood offices that lobby Disney and other entertainment companies to create pop culture that reflects each group's worldview.

"We have good relationships with a lot of the entertainment media," said GLAAD spokesman Liz Tracey, "and we're working hard to get involved at the script-writing level to make sure people are thinking about how they characterize gays and lesbians."

GLAAD's entertainment and film coordinator, Chastity Bono, the daughter of singer Cher and Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.), has pressed Hollywood producers for a more accepting view of homosexuals.

The Christian Film and Television Commission, which publishes reviews judging every new film's adherence to Christian values, seeks a similar impact on the evolution of pop culture.

That group's chairman, Baehr, said the Southern Baptist boycott is likely to have an effect opposite of what the Baptists intend -- that if the boycott wins a large following, "it will drive Disney to do more R-rated films, which is unfortunate, because Disney did not release any anti-Christian films last year, and they even produced a few movies with Christian content, such as The Preacher's Wife.' " Baehr predicted that even if the boycott starts slowly, it may well gain steam over time. "The Crusades were not a high point in public relations for the church, but they give people a feeling of accomplishment, and this boycott may do the same for many Americans," he said. CAPTION: Gerald Steffy, left, of Peoria, Ill., shows his support of the Disney boycott, which passed a vote of 12,000 Southern Baptist delegates meeting in Dallas.